Born in Alabama, Sylvia Black lived in California, Texas, and Massachusetts before settling in New York City. Although she initially aspired to be an actor, music became her calling. At age 17, her first singing job was a three-month residency at a resort hotel in Japan. In the late ninties and early 2000s, under the name Sylvia Gordon, she sang and played bass in Kudu, a New York electronic pop-rock trio that blended jazz, soul, and electronica. Several collaborations later, Black moved into session work and songwriting for television programs in the United States and Germany. Her better-known work includes co-writing the Black Eyed Peas’ “Meet Me Halfway” and the winning songs in Germany’s The Voice and German Idol. More recently, as Betty Black, she held a Friday night residency at New York’s Roxy Hotel. In 2018, her rendition of “I Put a Spell on You” was featured in the premiere episode of television’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The first album under the name Sylvia Black, Twilight Animals (Originals and Covers for Tortured Lovers), was released on October 18, 2019.
Sylvia Black performed at Berlin, singing and playing bass accompanied by guitarist Ruddy Lee Cullers, vibraphone/synthesizer player Yusuke Yamamoto, and drummer Parker Kindred. No-wave and spoken word artist Lydia Lunch, who appears on Black’s new album, introduced Black at the start of the performance and the two sang the opening song as a duet. The approximately 30-minute set was too short to adequately showcase the width of Black’s repertoire, but she demonstrated that she can sing, play bass, and reinterpret a cover song with curious twists and curves. The songs were mostly rooted in electro-soul and jazz-noir, but there were evident links to rock and punk. Black concluded the set with a cover of Fat White Family’s “Touch the Leather,” giving the song a sultry gloss. Black’s concert pointed to a bridge that could connect experimental music to mainstream indie.
High Waisted/Mercury Lounge/October 18, 2019
Recovering from a broken relationship, Brooklyn-based Jessica Dye retreated to Manhattan music clubs, where she would have a few beers, listen to bands, meet musicians, and record notes and poetry in a notebook. By 2014, Dye was a vocalist/guitarist and formed a band called High Waisted, the name originating from a nonsense phrase she had doodled into one of her notebooks. High Waisted began performing at these clubs and started organizing and promoting its own shows in warehouses and on rooftops and yachts. High Waisted also has released a series of experimental recordings: The Acid Tapes Vol. 4 was released October 18, 2019. High Waisted presently consists of Dye, lead guitarist RJ Helton, bassist Andrea Scaniello, and drummer/co-founder Jono Bernstien.
Every High Waisted concert is designed to be a party, and the Mercury Lounge record release performance for the release of the new album was no exception. Prior to the set, fans shared glow sticks and party hats. Dye came on stage holding high an umbrella covered in billowing cotton and wearing a similarly billowing dress so long and full that it partially restricted her movements. While the band’s recorded work shows a wider breath of musical aspirations, from straight surf to dreamy pop, the live performance was a romping rock ‘n’ roll show with waves of lo-fi surf, psychedelia, garage, and punk. Dye sang triumphant lyrics to sixties-styled pop melodies while three musicians surrounded her with jangly, reverberating guitar leads, fuzzy bass lines, and driving drumbeats. Up-tempo and summery, a good-time spirit permeated all the songs. Near the end of the set, Dye reminded the audience that this indeed was a party, and large balloons bounced to the stage. In the end, High Waisted brought a little sunshine into the nighttime.
Jahn Xavier/The Treehouse at 2A/October 20, 2019
As a six-year-old in New York City, Jahn Xavier was backstage at numerous rock concerts at the Fillmore East thanks to his godmother, a booking agent for many of the leading rock bands in the sixties and seventies. By age seven, Xavier began learning to play guitar and drums, and started playing in bands when he was 12 years old. At age 15, he took on the name X Sessive and began hanging at CBGB’s, playing briefly in the Blessed and then the Ghosts. At age 16, he became the roadie for Richard Hell & the Voidoids, and in 1979, wound up playing bass in the band. In 1980, Xavier started his own rock and soul band, the Nitecaps, which played the local circuit, recorded two albums, and opened for U2 on a six-week tour of the United Kingdom in 1983. In 1990, several Nitecaps resurfaced as Jahn Xavier & the Preachers. More recently, Xavier leads Jahn Xavier & the Bowerytones, releasing an album in 2012. Xavier recently has performed several area concerts as a solo acoustic act.
In a little-advertised gig at the Treehouse at 2A, Jahn Xavier performed with only an acoustic guitar and a big voice. Better said, it was a massive, booming baritone that could be heard clearly on the sidewalk outside the club. Many songs started with a whispering voice singing reflective and confessional lyrics, his eyes pressed tightly closed as he soulfully conjured his life story into melodies. Once he belted the song’s refrain, his mouth seemed to open wider than his head and his raw emotion filled the room. While the concert did not rock like when he performs with a band, Xavier’s take on classic folk and soul music was spellbinding and riveting.
The Bros. Landreth/Mercury Lounge/October 21, 2019
Joey Landreth and David Landreth were raised in a music family in Winnipeg, Canada, where they followed the steps of their dad, veteran musician Wally Landreth. The brothers spent their early careers independently performing as hired musicians for other artists. After one particularly long and challenging tour, Joey called his older brother and proposed they collaborate on their own music. The Bros. Landreth formed in 2013. In 2014, the Bros. Landreth won the Canadian Folk Music Award for New/Emerging Artist of the Year, and in 2015 the band won the Juno Award for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year. The Bros. Landreth’s second album, released on September 27, 2019, is titled ’87, recalling the year the two became brothers.
Headlining at Mercury Lounge, accompanied by keyboardist Liam Duncan and drummer Mike Carbone, the Bros. Landreth performed a silky-smooth set of harmony-laden down-home country-folk music. Joey played lead guitar and was the primary vocalist, and David played bass and also sang lead on a few songs. The songs were written from the heart and specialized in sad heart wringers. The brothers’ sibling harmonies heightened the intensity and passion of the crescendos, and Joey’s slide guitar further carried the melodies. The band’s honest integrity became the key that unlocked the doors to southern rockers and soulful ballads. Although rooted in Americana, the Bros. Landreth packed enough pop vocals and arrangements to cross over to the mainstream market.