The Music: Part One

New York is a city of Music. On any night of the week you can catch live music being played anywhere from Carnegie Hall through subway stations to the many pubs and clubs that play host to musicians struggling to make a living from the dollar bills placed in a jug that is passed around. My first live music experience here in NY was a trip to a venue in Brooklyn called the Bell House. I know, this isn’t in Long Island City, it’s across the border into another of the five boros that make up New York City. However my excuse is that I wasn’t living in LIC at the time and was attracted by a chance to hear an artist who I hadn’t heard for over 40 years, Bert Jansch.

Jansch was part of a folk revival movement that spanned the late 1960s and early 1970s. I had seen him in a club in London called Les Cousins. A friend of mine insisted on pronouncing it as if it was French, not the name of the guy who ran the club! At that time Jansch was famous as a solo artist for songs like “Needle of Death” and was a classic singer songwriter of the era, someone who’d hitch hiked around Europe and played guitar with a style that mixed the English folk tradition with that of American finger-style blues. I had been around a few folk clubs, most of which were rooms upstairs in pubs where the crowd drank cider and or beer and joined in with songs they knew, often in that rather pinched folk style that often required a finger in the ear to ensure pitch. Les Cousins was more like a London music club, still serving beer and more dimly lit. Jansch went on to join another guitarist, John Renbourn to create the first folk supergroup, Pentangle, along with bassist Danny Thompson, singer Jaqui McShee and drummer Terry Cox.

Bert Jansch at the Bell House, Brooklyn

This was my first chance to hear Jansch for many many years, and the first of two occasions in New York; and now he has passed away, from the lung cancer he would have been carrying as I listened to him, voice hardly changed and guitar playing still immaculate. He had fairly recently formed an friendship with Neil Young and was not surprising that on this occasion at the Bell House the support band was Pegi Young, Neil’s wife. The thrill was (and this is sooo New York) that husband Neil was playing rhythm guitar in the band. He did not play the star, just standing there in the background playing in his check jacket and his trademark white Gretsch, only once letting loose and taking the band to heights that it may not have anticipated.

So that was my first NY music experience, I since went on to hear Young and Jansch at a much more expensive venue a few months later. (more of that another time).

Back to LIC – it took a while after moving here to discover the LIC Bar. This is a real pub, over a hundred years old, with a wonderful ornate tin ceiling, wooden panels, alcoves and a really warm welcome. The story is that it was owned by two brothers, who one day argued and locked the place up – not to be opened  for years, finding glasses still on the bar.

The place consists of a bar, narrower at one end than the other, a courtyard area (with dramatic lighting and a giant willow tree) and a room the other end of the courtyard which is known as “The Carriage House”. LIC bar (www.licbar.com) has music at least three times a week: always on Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays, sometimes late Saturday nights and occasionally other nights. On Thursday they have a quiz and comedy show. The music here is curated by Gustavo Rodriguez, a talented singer/guitarist/songwriter whose other talent as an impressario is spotting and connecting with talented musicians from the area. Another talented musician, Irishman Niall Connally, organises the Sunday evening show in the winter, a show that has a folk orientation, whereas other nights might be a mix of jazz, country, rock and blues.

LIC Bar

The space at LIC bar is well used for music. In the summer the wall of the carriage house draws back to enable the space to be used as stage for music to be performed to an audience in the courtyard and through the open windows of the bar. In the winter an area of the bar provides accommodation for bands and singers.

Jefferson Thomas Band in the Carriage House – Gustavo Rodriguez on guitar at right

Enough of the location, what about the music? Well I’ve been here a while now and have heard a large number of musicians at the LIC Bar. Rarely have I gone and not been pleased with the quality of the artists. Some stand out, for various reasons, and it speaks volumes for the skills and taste of Gus Rodriguez that the standards are consistently high. Some of my favourites are Matt Sucich, Redwood Summer, Jefferson Thomas, Emily Mure, Michele Riganese, Sam Trapchak, Tammy Scheffer, Julie Kathryn and Mieka Pauley. Each deserve lengthy reviews, as do others that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing and meeting. These will come as I balance recent gigs with those that are yet unblogged.

Matt Sucich is a singer songwriter in the tradition of Paul Simon and David Gray, with a light country/folk feel that shows allegiance to early rock and roll. He writes intelligent personal lyrics and moves with his music in a way that lets you know that these are his songs and say things about him as a man and a musician. Catch his latest album http://music.esmatteo.com/album/jubilation-jealousy; an album that emphasises Matt’s deeply personal approach to melody and lyrics. The songs are, to use an old fashioned word, “catchy”, with memorable choruses that stay with you from the very first hearing. The production has sweet, simply layered guitars, voices, keyboard and percussion that allow Matt’s understated, breathy voice to lay his heart in front of you. This is not soppy romantic stuff; there can be an edge to Matt’s songs such as in “Brake Lights” a classic rock metaphor with a strong mix of acoustic and electric guitars. I’ve heard Matt sing on a couple, of occasions now and appreciated his use of pedal steel player to augment some of the songs. This is only hinted on the album through his use of reverb and tremolo.  On the album he plays most of the instruments and has engineered the album himself, with excellent post production and mastering from Devon C. Johnson.

Matt Sucich at LIC Bar Labor Weekend 2011

I like Matt’s sense of realism in his songs. “All Love” talks about the ups and downs of relationships, about staying for the long haul through light and dark times. The album is rooted in New York, not in a brash, show-biz sense but one that expresses the everyday life of subways, classic cars and emotions that are softly spoken, not screamed across the street.

Check also his “Holiday 7 inch Digital EP” – http://music.esmatteo.com/album/yule-a-holiday-ep

What you don’t get from the album is the sight of the way that Matt moves with his music; yet you can actually sense it here. You know that his feel for the pace of his songs is embedded in each performance, he has that exquisite sense of timing that is the mark of a true artist.

This is an album that survives repeated listening and is deserving of wider exposure