Stephen Ulrich and his jazz/rock noir band Big Lazy will take up residency at the renowned Brooklyn joint Barbes starting in a couple short days and there seems like no better reason to take a second glance at the 2014 gem of a record that slipped below our radar here at Popdose, that comeback kid LP, the group’s first outing since 2006, Don’t Cross Myrtle.
All you really need to know about Myrtle is that it’s the trio’s best record to date and that’s saying a goddamn lot. But better sounding than “Skinless, Boneless?” More killer than “Tel Aviv Taxi?” Hu-f**in-zzah.
The entire thing, like the group’s whole twisted back catalog, is a story of intersections: the intersection of rockabilly and icy-smooth menthol smoke, the intersection of surf music and David Lynch films, that of jazz and beatnik composition, that of big-sky country possibilities and film-noir endings. It’s all in there for the picking. Dive right in.
Album-opener “Minor Problem,” with its vaguely Afro-Cuban grooves and lurching upright bass, is menacing, the evil twin to Tom Waits’ epic Rain Dogs offering “Jockey Full of Bourbon,” if an instrumental one were ever needed. “Human Sacrifice” is pure, tube-riding Surfaris adrenaline, but not without a little postmodern guitar noodling thrown in to astonishing effect. Closer “Lunch Lady” is a drunken Reverend Horton Heat, slowed down below 33 and a third, with all of the afterward regrets cranked up to ten. “Black Sheep” is an unexpected Bill Frisell-style romance. “Avenue X” is jazz oblique trying to fight its way out of an urban jungle. Then there’s that smoking SRV-style solo in the title track. It rolls on and on and on ….
Part of the reason we have not received a continuous stream of such sonic treats is Ulrich himself. The band’s primary songwriter and most long-standing member went on a hiatus of sorts to become the composer for the quirky TV series Bored To Death. Aside for providing that show with a breath of fresh urban (and urbane) air, the time there served him well, lending his songwriting chops a more refined kind of pictographic shorthand. That’s not to say Amnesia or New Everything or other previous recordings weren’t amazing. (How could you?!) It just takes him less time to get to his destinations now. There’s less fat on the bone and that’s a joy for anyone hungering for more meat in their instrumental narrations. In short: Myrtle serves.
It’s an easy way to summarize, sure, sure, but there’s just not a bad song on the 12-track disc, each offering another noir-ish and pinpoint-precise dream-glance at what people outside NYC envision places like Brooklyn and the heart of Gotham to be. Ulrich is without a doubt one of the city’s finest guitar-slingers and his technique here is without reproach, even bordering on the magical. It takes more than a clever pedal to pull off these tricks. And it takes more than practice for a band to sound this committed to its material. So, there it is. Prescription for all those in the NYC sphere? Follow the LINK to Barbes!