Hear Paul Bryan , Handcuff King (The BatsIsHappy Records). The songs on this debut CD work like recombinant DNA: After just a few spins, they’ll sound as if you’ve been playing the album for years instead of days. Mr. Bryan-a San Pedro, Calif. native who now lives in New York-is a bassist, singer and longtime sideman who has played with Leona Naess, Graham Parker, Duncan Sheik, Michael Penn and Aimee Mann, with whom he has toured since 1999. All that road work has paid off on his graduation to frontman. Handcuff King is an evocatively drawn and deftly orchestrated meditation on love and loss that flickers with the spectral melancholy of an old Movietone newsreel. On the opening track, “Barrel Built for Two,” Mr. Bryan uses images of a couple going over a waterfall in a barrel as a metaphor for their relationship; in “One for My Head,” the world, spinning too fast, is a “tilt-a-whirl pinning us to the past”; and in “Star Stuff,” he asks: “What if it’s all dust / That’s it, just star stuff / And the light that I see / Burned away long before me.” Like his lyrics, Mr. Bryan’s modern folk rock has a shimmery, ethereal quality that would be at home on a double bill with Ms. Mann and Mr. Penn. The guitars, when they’re not acoustic, fuzz and wail in the background like restless ghosts, the piano sounds likes it was recorded through an earache, and Mr. Bryan’s voice sounds like a chalkier Dan Fogelberg. The high point of this 11-track album comes at the halfway mark with “Houdini and Cecilia,” which is about the famed magician’s obsession with his mother and his attempts to contact her in the afterlife. It’s also where the album gets its title. “Mother speak to me, send a message through / I could believe for you,” Mr. Bryan-as-Houdini pleads over a forlorn piano, acoustic guitar and brushed snare. The heavens may be indifferent, but New York should rejoice: a genuine new talent has come to town.
See Annie Quick at Sin-é on April 7, 10 p.m. Another California transplant who calls New York home, the tattooed, blue-nailed Ms. Quick shows real promise on her sophomore solo album, Bigger: Ten Songs About Georgette (Paste). A bracing, welcome antidote to all the female singer/songwriters pouring out their vulnerabilities behind an acoustic guitar, Ms. Quick prefers a steely rock sound and acidic lyrics that she sings in a voice reminiscent of early Sinead O’Connor. On record, Ms. Quick has yet to define herself in the way that Ms. O’Connor or P.J. Harvey have, and she probably could have sold herself better by moving “Thrill,” “Just for You” and “Fed Ex” to the front of the album. But listen to her sing “If I could FedEx my anger to you, you would sign for your demise” and you’ll will want to see what she does with that anger live .
Sin-é is located at 150 Attorney Street at Stanton. Phone: 212-388-0077 .
Plan to see the Mark Pender Band at the Cutting Room on April 16, 11 p.m. If you’ve ever watched Late Night with Conan O’Brien , Mark (the Love Man) Pender is the natty, bespectacled bald guy in the Max Weinberg 7 whose freak flag is eternally unfurled, whether he’s getting down with his trumpet or acoustic guitar. Turns out Mr. Pender has his own band, which plays the kind of jammy jazz and funk-think Earth, Wind and Fire meets the Average White Band-that sounds great live. The band will be playing cuts from their self-released, self-titled CD and DVD, which is available at markpenderband.com. Request “Hypnotize,” the slow jam that got Mr. Pender his “Love Man” handle from former E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt.
The Cutting Room is at 19 West 24th Street. Phone: 212-691-1900.
Revisit the Nashville rhythm-and-blues scene via Night Train to Nashville: Music City Rhythm and Blues 1945-1970 (Lost Highway). Released in conjunction with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s exhibit of the same name, this two-CD set, produced by Daniel Cooper and Michael Gray, makes the case that Memphis wasn’t the only R&B hotbed in Tennessee. Though the inclusion of California-born Etta James’ live performance of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” at a Nashville nightclub may make you wonder what kind of methodology went into this compilation, there’s a lot to love, including “Just Walkin’ in the Rain,” a spare, solemn guitar-and-vocal number by the Prisonaires, a group of Tennessee State Penitentiary inmates, led by tenor Johnny Bragg, who were driven under guard from the Nashville prison to Sun Records in Memphis to record the song. Other highlights: Little Richard inspiration Esquerita singing “Rockin’ the Joint” like he means it; Audrey Bryant’s rockabilly “Let’s Trade a Little”; Joe Simon’s “The Chokin’ Kind,” which Joss Stone recently covered; Roscoe Shelton’s balls-out “Say You Really Care”; Bobby Hebb’s breezy “Sunny”; and Joe Tex’s magnificent sax-and-sex-flavored “I Want To (Do Everything for You). According to the liner notes, Mr. Tex, whose stage surname was inspired by his Texas roots, claimed his secret to crossover success was that he always used “half soul musicians, half country musicians” in the studio. But that could also describe the secret formula of Nashville R&B: Not quite as greasy as the Memphis sound or as polished as Motown, it’s the cool precision of Nashville’s Music Row mixed with the sweat-slick passion of Jefferson Street. The best songs on Night Train are freighted with it-soul engines running on their own track.