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[ Video] Jamie Block “White Caps on Hudson”


Jamie Block is a New York-based singer-songwriter known for ramshackle, critical-darling, genre-bending antifolk music. In the 90s Block busked, skylarked and chainsmoked his way to indie stardom and then—rather than turn to a life of tears when Capitol Records dropped him—traitorously joined the one percent with a Wall Street career. Only when, years later, he heard a sultry New York deejay named Claudia Marshall call him back to music did he pick up his guitar again. Also, because nothing’s ever simple: His life fell apart. Midlife, divorce, spiritual spiral, recovery.

The longer version is this. In 1996, Block self-released Lead Me Not Into Penn Station which, according to the Alternative Press, “practices the alchemy of melodious discord: pretty enough to draw you in, rough enough to keep you listening.” Block then opened for The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Bob Mould, and They Might Be Giants.

In 1998, Glen Ballard (who’d just produced Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill) signed Block as the first artist to his Capitol imprint Java Records, and released Block’s next album, Timing is Everything, that year. Time Out said, “stellar,” and the Boston Globe said, “tight, important and indeed well-timed.” Several of his songs appeared on movie soundtracks, including “Rhinoceros” (Blast from the Past), “I Used to Manage PM Dawn” (Clubland), and “Catch a Falling Star” (Never Been Kissed).

His return to recording came a few years later, when WFUV deejay Claudia Marshall began regularly spinning his music and demanding on-air that the folksinger-in-pinstripes phone home. This plea led to The Last Single Guy, released in 2006. Allmusic.com described it this way: “like a bedside book, this album can be played in one sitting, but so much better to dip in and out of it over time, letting one’s mood determine one’s favorites for the day.” It also appeared on Ms. Marshall’s “Best of the Year” list.

Block’s latest release, 2013’s Whitecaps On The Hudson, presents deranged Byronic songs in loose, even organic attire. Call it antifolk or steamfolk or folkcore: pure-of-heart love songs run into unabashed pop melodies and collide with haunting spoken-word invocations.

Producer/engineer Dean Sharenow brought in a world-class band to help realize the songs, including Erik Della Penna (Natalie Merchant, Joan Baez) on guitars, Mick Rossi (Paul Simon, Phillip Glass) on keyboards, and Byron Isaacs (Olabelle) and Jeff Hill (Rufus Wainwright) sharing the bass duties. The album was recorded in two live Brooklyn sessions to maintain the spontaneity and flow of Block’s homespun demos.

It is Block’s most personal record to date.

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brandonw • June 4, 2013

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