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June 2015

The Leftover Cuties at The Living Room


Leftover Cuties, Living Room
The Leftover Cuties
, in town from Los Angeles, performed an intimate set at The Living Room on Tuesday, mixing classic swing and pop with modern songwriting. It felt like you had been transported to a mid-century smoky lounge, with Shirli McAllen's sensual voice filling the room and hot piano licks keeping you dancing in your seat.  (Of course, this was Brooklyn, so no one was smoking and everyone had probably just finished their kale.)  McAllen sings like she grew up living and breathing classic American music, even though (spoiler alert) English is actually her second language.  Her ukulele playing complimented her voice perfectly, fitting like a glove into the Leftover Cuties sound.

With Austin Nicholsen (bass) and Stuart Johnson (drums) holding down the rhythm section, the band swung all night.  Nicholen’s “upright banjo bass” gave the band a unique sound and aesthetic, but Johnson’s throwback drum was like something out of the world’s coolest 1920’s New Orleans swing band.  Their super-tight feel laid down a blanket of groove while Mike Bolger provided the hot jazz flavor on piano and trumpet.  Bolger is reminiscent of an early days piano man, right at home on either a stage or a crowded basement.

The true measure of a great song is how quickly and firmly it gets stuck in your head, which was certainly true of “Sunnyside,” which I'll be humming to myself for awhile.  On the classic “You Are My Sunshine,"  the heavy minor feel captured the tragic essence of one of America’s most classic love songs, that’s actually all about heartbreak and loneliness.

 The Leftover Cuties have a few more dates left in the Northeast!

The Felice Brothers Open Summerstage at Red Hook Park


Last Thursday, The Felice Brothers took the stage at Brooklyn's Red Hook Park to kick off this year’s Summerstage. (See my conversation with James Felice here.) Under the shadow of the Port Authority Grain Terminal, they showed off their unique sound to a crowd of devoted fans, onlookers and some local residents who were excited for a free show.  The only thing that didn’t deliver was the weather, as apparently mother nature did not get the memo that summer is officially here.

Their set featured some fan favorites including “Whiskey In My Whiskey,” a hard stomping ode to the simple solution to heartbreak and pain. “Meadow of a Dream” showed off their simple and powerful lyrics with a connection to classic Americana stories. But the Felice Brothers are far from just a traditional folk rock band. Their writing has a simple elegance, with a sharp cut at truth.   

Vocalist Ian Felice is a throwback to the classic frontmen of true rock and roll: captivating, mysterious, and tragic. With roots in rock and roll and a willingness to try anything, The Felice Brothers used a variety of instruments to create their unique musical aesthetic: fiddle player Greg Farly took a step back in time to double on washboard, then almost seamlessly switched to synthesizer pad.

In the past, the Felice Brothers have called Brooklyn a second home, and this evening certainly felt like a homecoming.  The band, who famously cut their teeth as subway performers, quipped about their transition from bar band to Summerstage. “Last time we were in Red Hook, we played a gig at the Bait and Tackle bar!”

Calexico and Gaby Moreno at Bowery Ballroom

by Steven Pisano

calexico "Bowery Ballroom"The Arizona-based band Calexico was in the city on Sunday and Monday nights at the Bowery Ballroom as the last stop of a US tour before jetting off to Europe for much of this summer. Many of the songs they performed were from their most recent full-length album, Edge of the Sun, but over the course of the set they delved back into their early albums as well, all of which have been received well critically.

Calexico has been around for 20 years now, and they remain true to their Southwestern sound, a mix of indie rock, mariachi, norteno, and Latin jazz, depending on the mood of any one song. Band leaders Joey Burns and John Convertino have been supported by different musicians over the years, and the current line-up is first rate, lending support on steel guitar, baritone guitar, ukulele, double bass, piano, accordion, and trumpets. Not to mention cow bells, tambourines, and assorted other percussion.

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