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Anyone who loves art has probably had an unsettling experience at a museum. From across the room, we see a painting so beautiful and seductive on the surface it almost commands us to look at it. We marvel at its light and lithesome colors. Then, we notice some spooky figure or a deeply unsettling shade in the corner of this picture. Our mood, once bright, suddenly takes an unmistakable turn for the ominous. If this visual idea could be turned into a musical one, the person to musically depict such works would be Benjamin Cartel. While his new album, Gothenburg, is both melodic and gorgeous, almost every song can creep you out a little, too.
Cartel is one sly songwriter. The tunes on his new disc can often conjure the same subliminal tension as that of a Randy Newman or John Prine. While the melody draws you in with its tunefulness and catchy hook, the lyrics, often dark and disturbing, have something else on their dirty little minds.
“It’s not like I planned it that way,” says the Brooklyn-based Cartel, chuckling. “Both the musical and lyrical aspects of my songs just seem to happen. I know if you listen to some of the things I’m saying, it can be kind of upsetting. But, I just follow the muse.”
“Madeleine” is a striking example of Cartel’s Law of Unintended Consequences. While evenly-strummed acoustic guitars chirp in a chipper fashion, and a piano adds splashes of bright primary colors, the narrator has something much darker on his mind. “Madeleine climb the stairs,” Cartel sings. “It’s only right that you should choose/What your heart is telling you,” he continues, in a voice as unnaturally upbeat as unreliable. What you think you hear, the commands of an unbalanced control freak, is that not that far-fetched.
“It’s great that you picked up on that,” says Cartel, clearly pleased. The lyrics were inspired, in part, by Hitchcock’s Vertigo (the story of a man who loses his great love, then fashions a suspicious new look-a-like into being just like her). “If you remember, near the end of the film, Jimmy Stewart is trying to drag Kim Novak up to the top of the same chapel where he lost his previous love. At one point he says to her, ‘Madeleine, climb the stairs!’ It sparked something in me – this very upsetting scene – and got me writing. The fact that the melody is bouncy and upbeat, well, that just happened.”
Dan Tedesco is the quintessential modern-day troubadour, narrating the American experience in song honestly and intimately, and with a big sound to boot. A solo artist, Tedesco’s stage show is framed by a minimalist production that finds him belting out folk-spiced rockers from behind both acoustic and electric guitars while foot-stomping percussion rounds out many of the arrangements—this is one solo artist who won’t seem out of place on a bill with rock bands. Interludes at the piano lighten the mood a little, but only a little, as the distorted Rhodes and Wurly sounds only contribute to Dan’s stage presence. Overall, you can expect the twang of John Prine, the attitude of Ike Reilly, the picking of Steve Goodman, and shades of Paul Simon. Similarities aside, however, Dan Tedesco is at one extremely talented and intensely original.
On Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 Tedesco released his new full-length, “Death In The Valley”, on which he worked, once again, with Duane Lundy (Shangri-La Productions/Lexington, KY) in the Engineer/Producer chair. Focusing on themes concerning the recession, isolation, identity, control (or a lack thereof), responsibility and most importantly hope, a narrative is carved out and supported by a very organic, stripped-down production touch.