Music

Splendor in the Artgrass

Ralph Stanley croaking "Man of Constant Sorrow" over Bruce Barth's Tyneresque piano might strike you as either inspired, uncanny, or sinful. Whichever, it represents the conceptual apex of Shifting Sands of Time, the ambitious debut by artgrass transcendentalists the Wayfaring Strangers, who brought their highfalutin lonesome sound to Joe's Pub on November 14. And while Stanley was just passing through the studio, the band maintains a healthy tension by threatening to add fancy-pants art moves to mostly American vernacular styles—folk, country, bluegrass, gospel, even klezmer—not unlike spooning caviar into the cracker barrel.

Led by violinist (and Berklee strings prof) Matt Glaser, the Strangers pit three relatively young female vocalists against such seasoned players as Tony Trischka on banjo and Andy Statman on clarinet and mandolin. While Jennifer Kimball, Ruth Ungar, and Aoife O'Donovan did their best to tap into the dread of "Rank Stranger" and "Wayfaring Stranger," they seemed more comfortable with the livelier pleasures of "Blue Moon of Kentucky" or the sheer sexual glee of "June Apple."

The singers drew pictures the instrumentalists inked and embellished, as when Statman upended the somber strains of the Bill Monroe tune "Memories of You" with a buoyant klezmer clarinet solo. "Motherless Child" sandwiched Kimball's haunting vocals around a Barth solo excursion and the fiddle tune "Elzic's Farewell." "We're too bluegrassy to work jazz clubs," Glaser admitted at one point, "and too jazzy to work bluegrass festivals." Not if they'd take their jazz deeper outside and bluegrass more energetically inside, as several fiery string exchanges proved they could. Tension is a healthy thing in a band. Too much, however, and all you're left with is a bunch of strangers. —Richard Gehr


What Planet Are You From?

How did we get from Grand Wizard Theodore's momentous two-turntable mix in the forlorn 1973 Bronx to vinyl-obsessive Texan Dario Robleto's miniature log cabin sculpted from melted-down records, complete with spiraling "smoke" made of dust collected from their worn grooves? A new exhibit at the Bronx Museum, "One Planet Under a Groove: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art," answers this question with more than 60 contemporary works, from Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring up through Bronx native Kori Newkirk's bling-bling rings fashioned from gum wrappers and broken glass. In the process, "One Planet" (running until March 2002) legitimizes hip-hop's presence within the white-wall realm.

In his painting Toxic(1984), Brooklyn-born Basquiat reveals the show's thesis by transforming hip-hop sonics—in this case, cutting and scratching—into an electrifying collage of color and free form. Across from Coreen Simpson's late-'80s close-ups of Flavor Flav's gold teeth and Eric B.'s dazzling jewels, Mel Chin displays hip-hop's storied weapon of choice, the Glock 9mm, alongside a surgical gun-wound kit and calls it HOMEySEW "9" (1994). As Q-Tip proclaimed on The Low End Theory, after this it gets drastic—or at least conceptual. Douglas Ross re-contextualizes a common spray-paint graffiti tag from an NYC brick wall, using a chemical grafting process onto fiberglass that involves glycerin and fish glue; Soundlab's Howard Goldkrand encases a rumbling bass speaker inside a tree trunk; and Luis Gispert bounces a booty track through the bass kickers of a chrome and neon go-cart in Flossing. Along with Chris "Holy Virgin Mary" Ofili's psychedelic geometrics (featuring Heavy D and Jody Watley in the elephant-dung-adorned Afrodizzia, from 1996), Robleto's ingenious vinyl constructions are the show's most accomplished and innovative pieces. Though they're a far cry from lamppost-powered turntables, "One Planet" confirms they're no less hip-hop. —Eric Demby


No Place Like Home

"Growing up, Joey's music was all I had. I was a misfit, I never felt welcomed—I guess I was a typical Ramones fan." Maureen Wojciechowski didn't want people to forget about her late hero, so the 20-year-old college student from Staten Island proposed a street sign in his honor. She recruited an army of supporters, beginning with Joey's mother, Charlotte Lesher. Last Thursday, after months of petitions, community letters, and testimonies, the Public Safety and Transportation Committee of Manhattan's Community Board 3 unanimously approved Joey Ramone Place at the corner of East 2nd and Bowery. Now the proposal goes to the City Council, then to the Department of Transportation for final approval.

The planned site is a few yards south of CBGB, downstairs from the loft where Joey lived for a number of years with longtime Ramones art director Arturo Vega. Several Ramones album cover photos were shot on or around that corner. Vega says, "The sign is about putting a smile on people's faces. You'll feel good about yourself, about the neighborhood, about New York City."

Initially, only two of the eight board members knew who Joey was, so Punk magazine founder John Holstrom reminded them by singing a few bars of "Blitzkrieg Bop" ("Hey! Ho! Let's go!"). CBGB's Hilly Kristal testified to Joey's East Village roots: how he lived and worked there, nurturing two generations of local punk bands.

Last Thursday, the cheery auditorium at P.S. 20 on Essex Street was filled with Ramones fans, family members, reporters, and film crews. By now, Maureen had ditched her straight clothes for full Ramones colors: black leather jacket, low Cons, and a Joey Ramone Place T-shirt designed by Vega. She also wore her favorite studded leather belt. Looking down at it, the quintessential punk rock girl said, beaming, "It's just like Joey's!" —Donna Gaines

 
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