Manhattan Beat – New York Junk, Mavis Staples, & More!

New York Junk/Coney Island Baby/August 10, 2018

    Brooklyn has its indie scene, but Manhattan is all about rock ‘n’ roll, and many of these bands are led by veterans of the punk movement of the 1970s. New York Junk is currently among these seasoned buzz bands. Raised in Long Island, NY, lead vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Joe Sztabnik played the local punk rock circuit in the Dragons decades ago. In 1977, bassist Cynthia Ross formed the ‘B’ Girls, an all-female garage-pop band who moved from Toronto, Canada to New York City after touring with the Clash. Both the Dragons and the ‘B’ Girls split in the early 1980s, and in the mid 1980s, Sztabnik and Ross played together briefly in the Renegades. Two decades later, Sztabnik and Ross reunited in 2008 in Sztabnik’s basement studio in Queens, NY, and the concept for New York Junk was born. Guitarist Jeff Ward and drummer Gary Barnett completed the ranks. New York Junk’s second and most recent album, 7 Train, was released on July 15, 2018.

    New York Junk performed a record release party at Coney Island Baby as the official debut of the new album, but some of the material had been in the band’s live set for years, including the title track. Played together, the new songs suggested that the band might be leaning away from Sztabnik’s earlier lyrics-as-narratives manner and embracing a more hardened yet simplified rock ‘n’ roll rally. Sztabnik’s lyrics were as mature and intelligent as ever, easily capable of being at home in acoustic singer/songwriter circles, but here many were given a blistering rock arrangement, with Sztabnik and Ward trading guitar leads between Sztabnik’s vocals. Ross’ backing vocals lent the songs personality and balance, and Barnett’s rapid and heavy striking on the drums led and strengthened the cohesion. New York Junk can show many younger musicians how to pack more punch into their music.


Mavis Staples/Damrosch Park Bandshell/August 11, 2018

    Born in Chicago, a 9-year-old Mavis Staples began singing with her family group, the Staples Singers, at churches and on a weekly radio show. Led by family patriarch Roebuck “Pops” Staples on guitar and including the voices of Mavis and her siblings Cleotha, Yvonne, and Pervis, the Staples scored a hit in 1956 with “Uncloudy Day”. When Mavis graduated from high school in 1957, the Staples Singers took their music beyond the local circuit. By the mid-1960s, Pops had a close friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Staples Singers became the musical voices of the civil rights movement. Mavis began doubling group work with a solo career in 1969. The Staples Singers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and were honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. In 2011, Mavis won her first Grammy award. Her 14th and most recent studio album, If All I Was Was Black, was released on Nov. 17, 2017; following the release, Staples toured with Bob Dylan.

    The annual summer-long Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors series closed its 2018 season as usual with a two-day Americana festival at the Damrosch Park Bandshell and Mavis Staples headlined the first of the two nights. Backed by a trio of musicians (guitarist Rick Holmstrom, bassist Jeff Turmes, drummer Stephen Hodges) and two vocalists (Donny Gerrard, Vicki Randle), Staples performed an earthy, rootsy set of folk-styled rhythm & blues with old-time gospel inflections. The sparse but tasty instrumentation behind Staples accented her uniquely hearty, gutsy vocal delivery. Many of the songs flowed with political and social messages that were not tied to specific historical moments but voiced an eternal call for justice, equity and peace. Between songs at one point, Staples told the audience that she would rather offer love than anger. Staples has been offering this same product to audiences for about 70 years, and it remains as classy and timeless as ever.


Kiss of the Whip/Mercury Lounge/August 11, 2018

    Originally from Montreal, Canada, and based out of Philadelphia, Pa., Tristan Victor spent much of his adolescence and early adulthood fronting metal/hardcore bands. In 2017, he turned to electronic darkwave and took on the identity Kiss of the Whip. Kiss of the Whip’s second album, Like Love Only Real, was released May 11, 2018.

    The Red Party at Mercury Lounge is the monthly gathering of New York City’s gothic and post-punk community, so Kiss of the Whip found a waiting audience. Victor frequently leaned into his synthesizers and sang opaquely as his electronic rhythms pulsed and throbbed through the room. Supported by bassist/synthesizer team mate Jules Fisichella, the music featured atmospheric waves of sound with romantic and melancholic brush strokes, even as they bustled with high-energy dance beats. Inspired perhaps by gothic sounds of the 1980s and more contemporary industrial music, the vocals were brooding and the repetitive grooves were cutting. Would this appeal to a large audience? Presently, this breed of music is part of an underground movement, but it is bound to evolve into a future mainstream.


Margo Price/Damrosch Park Bandshell/August 12, 2018

    Margo Price grew up in Aledo, Ill. (pop. 3,612), where she played piano and sang in a church choir before studying dance and theater at nearby university. She left school in 2003, however, and moved to Nashville, Tenn. There, the 20-year-old Price waited tables, installed and removed residential siding, and taught dance to children. She soon met bass player and future husband Jeremy Ivey, and they played together in Secret Handshake, a band that played political songs only, before they started Buffalo Clover and later formed Margo and the Pricetags. Since releasing her debut solo album in 2016, Price has won prestigious music awards in the United States and the United Kingdom. Price’s second and most recent album, All American Made, was released on Oct. 20, 2017.

    Margo Price provided the finale to the annual summer-long Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors season as the headliner of the final night of the two-day Americana festival at the Damrosch Park Bandshell. Price was backed by her band, the Pricetags, which consisted of Ivey on harmonica and guitar, Jamie Davis on lead guitar, Luke Schneider on pedal steel, Micah Hulscher on keyboards, Kevin Black on bass, and Dillon Napier on drums. Her support artist, Lukas Nelson, also joined for a cover duet of Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty‘s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Price sang songs from her two solo albums, but demonstrating how she would not be locked into one genre of music, Price’s rich, homey voice did a fine interpretation of Bob Dylan‘s “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”, Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”, Janis Joplin‘s “Mercedes Benz”, and the Grateful Dead’s “Casey Jones”, the latter song sung while she was playing second drums. Price moved to the drums twice in order to allow her band members an opportunity to flex their strengths through energetic jams. In the end, her Ameripolitan New York audience came to understand that Margo Price is a prolific, skilled songwriter and a bad-ass country singer who is bucking the current by foregoing commercial pop in order to nurture honky tonk, rockabilly and cowboy-blues with her own grit and truth.