New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: acoustic music

Southern Gothic Tourmates Play Two Killer Shows on December 19

Folk noir songwriters Lorraine Leckie and Kelley Swindall wound up their third annual Southern Gothic Tour, making their way back from New Orleans to their home turf with a sold-out gig at the Mercury on the thirteenth of the month, an appropriate date for the two haunting, haunted, relentlessly intense bandleaders. The crowd squeezed around the video tripod set up in the middle of the floor: if the crew who were meticulously working it got their levels right, both performers got a great live album out of it. Swindall is playing what’s rumored to be her farewell NYC gig on Dec 19 at 9 at the Bitter End, of all places, for $10; Leckie plays two hours later that same night at 11 at Sidewalk for free, so if you’re adventurous, you can catch what crowds south of the Mason-Dixon line got to enjoy on a doublebill this past fall.

It’s impossible to imagine a better straight-up rock band than Leckie’s group the Demons (Huffington Post has a funny, insightful piece on them here). Lead guitar monster Hugh Pool channeled Hendrix in sideswiping, lighter-fluid-on-the-frets mode over the deep, in-the-pocket groove of bassist Charles DeChants and drummer Paul Triff. Pool unleashed a sunbaked, blistering Stoogoid attack on the album’s title track Rebel Devil Devil Rebel, a surrealistically joyous shout-out to New Orleans. At the end of the show, the band cut loose with a viciously ecstatic version of Ontario, a wickedly catchy Crazy Horse style stomp, Leckie’s explosive yet bittersweet shout-out to her Canadian roots. In between, the band snarled their way through the Warren-Zevon-on-acid glam of Rainbow, the distant menace of Watch Your Step and a lingering version of The Everywhere Man, a serial killer narrative fueled by Pool’s vertigo-inducing, echoing slide work. Out in front of the band, playing Telecaster (and keys on one plaintively brief number), Leckie’s steely vocals were undiminished over the maelstrom.

Swindall cut her teeth playing music with a long-running residency at Stefan Lutak’s legendary East Village dive bar the Holiday Lounge. If you could play there, you could play anywhere, so Swindall took the stage at the Mercury like she owned the place. She’s sort of a musical counterpart to Flannery O’Connor or Carson McCullers, a southern gothic intellectual giving voice to the restless and the outcasts among us, with an indelible wistfulness. This time out, playing acoustic guitar and harmonica and backed by a three-piece band, she opened with a brooding, Waits-ish blues set in a vivid Lower East side milieu. She revisited that hauntingly later in the set with a creepy, noir tableau where “every high becomes its low” and then a cheating song set to an oldtimey shuffle groove.

Bassist Stephanie Allen (also of the Third Wheel Band) propelled a brisk mashup of an oldtime talking blues and a country patter song, followed by a triumphant version of the weed-smuggling anthem California and a little later, Swindall’s own original, full-throttle version of Minglewood Blues. She wound up her set with the kiss-off anthem to end all kiss-off anthems, I Never Loved You Anyway, and then the Murder Song, a vindictive ending for a clueless chick who spends her nights getting trashed at honkytonk karaoke. If New York ends up losing Swindall, it’ll be our loss and someone else’s gain.

Radio Jarocho Reinvent High-Voltage, Rustic Mexican Party Music

Radio Jarocho‘s music isn’t watered-down exotica for politically correct yuppies. It’s raw and roughhewn and funny and fearless, which even though it’s all-acoustic makes it about as punk as you can get. It’s something people might have danced to over tequila shots in a dingy Veracruz cabana fifty years ago – except that with one exception, all of the songs on their latest album, Café Café – streaming at Bandcamp – are brand new.

What Radio Jarocho play is sort of a Son Jarocho counterpart to Very Be Careful‘s rustically biting retro Colombian cumbias. They’ve made the claim that their self-titled 2009 debut album was the first Son Jarocho album ever recorded in New York. The backstory to Café Café, their second release, is that after playing the raucously soulful Mexican coastal repertoire for years, they figured they could write originals that were just as good. They’re bringing them to a fantastic, free triplebill at the Jalopy on Dec 11 starting at 8 at with oldtime string band maven Feral Foster and most likely headlining later, Hubby Jenkins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. And the Jalopy folks will be donating a portion of all drink sales to God’s Love We Deliver.

The album opens with the title track, Juan Carlos Marín’s requinto (a Mexican tenor guitar) mingling with the flurrying jaranas (shortscale eight-string guitars) of Carlos Cuestas and Emmanuel Huitzil as their dancer, Julia del Palacio keeps the beat going with her pandero hand drum. The lead instrument is Francisco Martínez’s marimbol, an Afro-Caribbean instrument with a midrange tone that looks and sounds like a cross between a mbira and a Jamaican rhythm box.

By contrast, Malhaya el Sueño is a brooding, eerily shapeshifting, waltz-ish nocturne, folk noir done Son Jarocho style. They pick up the pace again with the defiant party anthem Conga Libre, a happy-go-lucky, La Bamba-style singalong and keep it going with the most antique-sounding track here, a hellraising tale aptly titled Los Jaraneros (The Partyers).

Morena es la Virgen is another moody track, flamenco run through a surreal Mexican prism. The wistful waltz La Tristeza is a lot more lively and bittersweet than the title would suggest. Las Comadres (The Wives) works a droll back-and-forth dialogue, the whole band joining in on the chorus as they do on most of the songs, one of the jaranas firing off an unexpectedly jazzy solo..

Se Ve Que Sabes Bailar brings back the flamenco drama and intensity, followed by Conga Le Lé, its dips and swells and animated call-and-response. The album winds up with the anthemic Bemba y Tablao, by popular Son Jarocho songwriter and poet Patricio Hidalgo, who also sings on it. One especially cool thing about this album is that the songs go on for four or five minutes apiece, giving the band a chance to take their time and cut loose and capture the sly humor and exuberance that you’d find at the fandangos where it’s played. And as much fun as this stuff is, it also has depth and gravitas – and you don’t need to speak Spanish to enjoy it.

Sunday Singles

It’s not like any of these songs will ever get stale – they’re all good – but they’ve been sitting around here for awhile. So enjoy!

Vatan play propulsive, hauntingly shuffling Persian folk-rock. Check out those gorgeous chromatics, the lush web of tar lutes and Mona Kayhan’s cool, slow-burning vocals on their single Niloufar, at bandcamp.

Field Report’s Decision Day is acoustic and Steve Earle-ish, a little heavyhanded lyrically but the tune is catchy and builds anthemically. “Now you and I are free to extricate ourselves from the mud,” via soundcloud.

CTMD honcho Pete Rushefsky is also an accomplished player on the hauntingly rippling tsimbl, the Ukrainian Jewish dulcimer which is the forerunner of the Hungarian cimbalom. His show a couple of Fridays ago at the American Folk Art Museum with a couple of violinists (and his similarly talented wife on flute and vocals) was off the hook. Here he’s playing Joseph Moskowitz’s Oriental Movement #1 (youtube).

And here’s another fun live youtube clip: surfy post-Bollywood art-rockers Bombay Rickey doing a live take of their catchy, shapeshifting Bombay 5-0 at their Ditmas Park hideaway earlier this year. The surf kicks in really good at about 1:40.

Aiofe O’Donovan Brings Her Cutting-Edge, Purist Americana Tunesmithing to the Upper West

Aiofe O’Donovan is cool. The Crooked Still singer/guitarist played one of the outdoor concerts at Madison Square Park a couple of months ago and wasn’t impressed by that burger joint there with the interminably long lines – and if you’d been standing downwind in the greasy smoke wafting from the kitchen, you wouldn’t have been either. “Is the food really that good?” she asked, skeptical. A lone guy sheepishly put his his hand. “OK, if you say so,” she grinned back.

O’Donovan makes her living on the road, whether playing bluegrass classics, singing in progressive jazz icon Dave Douglas’ group, with symphony orchestras, or doing her own stuff. September’s show was mostly original material, much of it taken from her debut solo album, Fossils, and it was consistently excellent. If you missed the show – and a lot of people did – she’s making a quick swing through town, in between Crooked Still reunion shows, for a free concert at 7:30 PM on Nov 13 at the Lincoln Center Atrium. It’s not clear who’s playing when, but she’s on the bill with a solid quartet of performers: explosive New Orleans trombonist/gospel shouter Glen David Andrews; Elle King, who is sort of an Americana counterpart to Cat Power; and charming guy/girl harmony duo the Spring Standards. These shows are a neighborhood institution and fill up fast, so the earlier you get there, the better: you can probably expect about a half an hour from each act.

O’Donovan, being a runner, likes to jump around a lot onstage, and reveled in the chance to do that at the park because, as she explained, she’d been playing on a boat where that hadn’t been an option. Backed by terse upright bass, drums and lead guitar, she mixed up ballads and more upbeat numbers. As you might expect from someone in a band whose name refers to moonshine, whiskey figures into a lot of her songs, from the swaying, John Prine-influenced opening number, Oh Mama, to a jaunty country blues punctuated by a bouncy bass solo a little later on.

They followed the broodingly shuffling Thursday’s Child, fueled by Austin Nevins’ lingering, red-sunset guitar leads with a slower but similarly simmering, late-summery tune. O’Donovan sang Briar Rose with a moodily insistence as ambulance sirens passed north of the park. It was cool to watch the group mash up trad styles with electric rock energy, without turning it into cliched 70s-style dadrock, then going deep into the Appalachian catalog. And through it all O’Donovan soared, and sailed, and brought edge and bite to the songs when they asked for them, as songs do. It’s not clear if O’Donovan will have a band with her at the Lincoln Center show or not, but either way she’s a lot of fun live.

Another Creepy Masterpiece and a Bell House Show by O’Death

O’Death are one of those great bands who sound like no other group on the planet – and yet, they’re one of the most widely imitated acts around. Part Nashville gothic, part oldtimey, part circus rock and part noir cabaret, like all successful bands these days they make their living on the road. And they just had their tour van stolen – with all their gear in it. They’re in the midst of crowdsourcing an emergency fund to get some new gear, an effort that’s happily been pretty successful, but what’s been especially problematic is that the kind of vintage instruments they typically play aren’t available off the shelf. In the meantime, they’re got a characteristically excellent new album, Out Of Hands We Go – streaming at Northern Spy Records – and a New York show coming up at around 11 PM on Nov 14 at the Bell House. General admission is $15 – if there’s any band that could use your support right about now, it’s these guys.

Frontman/guitarist Greg Jamie’s voice is as menacingly quavery as ever, throughout a typical mix of creepy Edward Gorey-esque tableaux and disquietingly befuddling narratives. Arthur Lee is a frequent reference, especially on All Is Light, with its delicately orchestrated Forever Changes vibe, and the off-kilter Apple Moon, with its delicious blend of steel guitar and what sounds like a mellotron. Neil Young is another, most obviously on Go & Play with Your Dead Horses – but in this case it sounds like Neil Y on some obscure but powerful mushrooms.

The slowly shuffing Herd, which opens the album, takes the point of view of someone who’d like to stray – but Jamie only implies that. That’s what makes his songs so interesting – much as some of his images can be flat-out-ghoulish, he always draws the listener in with them. Likewise, the bluesy circus rock tune Wrong Time, which might or might not be about cannibalism, swaying its way up to a hypnotic Magical Mystery Tour psych-rock pulse.

“Maybe we’ll burn this house together and drag our corpses cross the floor,” Jamie muses on Roam, the hardest-rocking track here. “Like sleeping naked in the rain – wouldn’t have bothered anyone, but would have rendered me insane,” Jamie’s narrator nonchalantly intones on the understatedly morbid, Tom Warnick-esque Wait for Fire. The longest track here, We Had a Vision, blends layers of stark strings with Gabe Darling’s banjo and Jamie’s gracefully picked minor-key acoustic guitar.

“Don’t tell me I don’t know what I saw, crushed leaves on the morning fire – I’ve stoked all I can from your desire,” Jamie casually explains in the ominously dancing waltz Heal in the Howling. The most ornate, and arguably most menacing track here is Isavelle, a murder ballad fueled by Bob Pycior’s icepick violin. The album ends with another macabre waltz, its narrator pondering what to do with his victims – it brings to mind Bobby Vacant at his most uneasy. As usual, O’Death have turned in (dug up? exhumed?) yet another great album, one of the best of 2014. And if you want the band to make more, if you know of anyone who’s got a vehicle they could borrow to finish their East Coast tour, or who might be selling a decent quality used guitar amp, bass amp or maybe a bass head or cab, put them in touch with the band.

Kelley Swindall Puts an Edgy, Individualistic Spin on Classic Americana

One of the cool things about Kelley Swindall‘s new album – streaming at Spotify - is that she sings every song differently. The funny ones have a jaunty southern twang, something you might expect from someone who originally hails from Stone Mountain, Georgia. On the darker ones – and there’s plenty of darkness here – Swindall’s voice takes on a mix of Eartha Kitt growl and Nina Simone bite. She’s opening the Lorraine Leckie album release show with a set at 7 PM sharp at the Mercury on Nov 13; advance tix are $10 and going fast.

Another cool thing is how Swindall uses oldtime Americana as a springboard for her songwriting: the songs don’t feel constrained by a particular era or style. And they’re completely in the here and now. For example, the first of the talking blues numbers – a style that Swindall really likes – is a cross-country weed-smuggling tale. Like A Boy Named Sue, it’s got a surprise ending, but one that you don’t see coming a mile away.

The big crowd-pleaser, also a talking blues, is a murder ballad – with an ending that’s easier to see coming, but when Swindall delivers it, it’s still irresistible. The country ballad You Can Call Me Darlin’ If You Want T0 sounds like a love song on the surface, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. The restlessness is relentless in Swindall’s songwriting and this is a prime example.

Swindall’s elegant oldtime delta blues picking fuels the hauntingly brooding opening track, Sidewalk Closed, a noir tableau fleshed out with Matthew Albeck’s eerily reverberating dobro. On Your Own, a spare, stark, bluesy minor-key kiss-off ballad, begins with a more muted delivery, but then Swindall’s vocals rise to a defiant angst – it’s the first place on the album where she actually belts, and she makes it count.

Dear Savannah, a wistful reminiscence of a romance that in retrospect was doomed from the start, blends Swindall’s delicate fingerpicking and tersely bluesy harmonica, Stephanie Allen’s upright bass and more of that spooky bent-note work from Albeck. He Ain’t You sets vintage jazz-tinged guitar lead over a classic country waltz tune, with a lyric that when you think about it, is pretty vicious. And Swindall’s own My Minglewood Blues, inspired by the famous folk song, mashes up blues and bluegrass via guest Phil Harris’ banjo. The lone cover here is Ryan Morgan‘s Maricopa, AZ , which fits well with Swindall’s darker material, a noir soul song done oldtimey shuffle style with fingerpicked guitar and more biting Albeck slide playing – it wouldn’t be out of place in the Dina Rudeen songbook.

Swindall’s sense of humor goes beyond the songwriting. The album title, Pronounced kel-le swin-dl (more or less – the machine on which this is being typed doesn’t have the phonetic alphabet) is a Lynyrd Skynyrd pun. And the cd cover shot references Francoise Hardy, not something you’d typically see on an album of rustic Americana. Like another moody Americana songwriter recently covered here, Jessie Kilguss, Swindall draws on a theatrical background (which might have something to do with why she always sings in character): she’s a member of the edgy downtown production company The Amoralists.

Muddy Ruckus Bring Their Darkly Inventive Americana to the Rockwood

Portland, Maine trio Muddy Ruckus call their music “stomp and swing punk.” They’re bringing their uneasy guy/girl harmonies and unique blend of string-band swing, Tom Waits-inspired circus rock and oldtimey blues to the small room at the Rockwood on Sept 27 at 9 PM. They’ve also got a stylistically diverse, carnivalesque debut album streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, Crawl on the Ceiling sets the tone, a brisk noir swing romp fueled by Brian Durkin’s steady bass pulse, Erika Stahl’s torchy vocal  harmonies enhancing the darkly phantasmagorical ambience. The band work their way up from skeletal to anthemic on Come with Us, lowlit by Marc Chillemi’s torchy muted trumpet. Ruby Red rises from a doomed, slow-burning electrified minor-key blues groove to a frantic sprint to the finish line, frontman/guitarist Ryan Flaherty channeling pure desperation with an unhinged solo.

Mother Mud blends oldschool 60s soul with a string band sound from forty years previously, driven by Phil Bloch’s violin. The scampering swing shuffle Bulldozer will resonate with anyone who can’t wait to get out of the “shitty town” where they grew up, as Flaherty puts it. “I don’t need your family money or drugs, ’cause I’m high on all the lies I told myself as I grew up,” he drawls sarcastically.

Butterfly Bullets adds a little cynical hip-hop edge to Waits-ish noir blues. Worse Things mashes up lazy indie rock and oldtime blues: it’s a kiss-off to an evil boss and dayjob drudgery in general. “There’s no romance that compares to the rug that’s pulled out from under your prayers,” Flaherty insists.

Convalescent Angel builds from creepy oldtime gospel ambience to anthemic menace. Infinite Repair returns to the noir swing, with a neat, flatpicked guitar solo that’s part Appalachian, part Romany jazz. Lightning, a slow waltz, mines an oldtime fire-and-brimstone vernacular anchored by Durkin’s stygian bowing. Stahl sings Bag of Bones, a dancing, dixieland-flavored swing tune. The album’s final track, On and On, is a loping, hypnotic rock nocturne: thematically, it’s out of place, but it’s not bad.

Trampled by Turtles Bring Their Catchy, State-of-the-Art Americana to Terminal 5

Duluth, Minnesota’s well-regarded Trampled by Turtles personify the drift many of this era’s top tunesmiths have taken away from rock into Americana perhaps better than any band around. Imagine Andrew Bird plus Low, divided by O’Death in somber, lush mode, and you get a good picture of what their new album Wild Animals (streaming at Spotify and produced, appropriately enough, by Alan Sparkhawk of Low) sounds like. They’re at Terminal 5 at around 10 this Friday, Sept 12, with Hurray for the Riff Raff, a.k.a. torchy oldtimey Americana songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra opening the show at 9. Cover is $25, and with Trampled by Turtles as popular as they are, advance tix (available at the Mercury Lounge 5-7 PM Mon-Fri) are always a good idea.

The new album – their seventh, if you can believe – opens with the title track, a waltz, managing to be rustically bittersweet yet rousingly anthemic at once. It’s a good tablesetter for everything that follows, frontman/guitarist Dave Simonett’s gentle, unassuming vocals always just a hair below pitch – he’s sort of a male indie-era counterpart to the B-52’s Kate Pierson. White noise – ebow guitar, maybe – whooshes in and raises the lushness factor behind him.

The second track, Hollow, motors along on the graceful midtempo bluegrass groove of Dave Carroll’s banjo and Erik Berry’s mandolin as Ryan Young’s fiddle soars tersely and somewhat warily overhead. Repetition, another waltz, is where the stadium-rock-disguised-as-country really starts to take off, Berry’s mando cutting a Milky Way through a deep-blue nocturnal backdrop. Then they pick up the pace Are You Behind the Shining Star, which comes across as something akin to a vintage ELO hit with newgrass production values…or ELO doing newgrass. You might not think it would work, but it does.

One of the album’s most memorable tracks, the harmony-fueled Silver Light brings to mind another first-class Minnesota band, the Jayhawks circa 1997 or so. Come Back Home is another cross-genre mindfuck: Mexican son jarocho, chamber pop (those multi-tracked strings by Young are killer) and a brisk bluegrass romp. Ghosts aptly looks back to Orbison Nashville noir, but through the prisms of newgrass and post-Coldplay stadium rock.

“I think it’s time to go/The bartender is mean and slow,” Simonett warbles morosely midway through Lucy, an ethereal wee-hours lament. Then they blast through the lickety-split yet brooding Western World, a showcase for some searing banjo and fiddle that would fit in perfeclty on an album by The Devil Makes Three, Tim Saxhaug’s bass driving the beast forward. The most oldtimey track here is the country gospel-tinged Nobody Knows, followed closely by the closing cut, Winners, a warmly catchy Appalachian theme reinvented as a late 90s Wilco-style sway. Pretty much everything here is the kind of stuff that you find running through your mind long after the concert’s over.

Summer Memories: Two Darkly Funny Solo Shows by Tunesmith Walter Ego

Good Cop: We’re baaaack!

Bad Cop: We refuse to be farmed out.

Good Cop: We’re back by popular demand! People like us! They request us!

Bad Cop: Au contraire. People hate us. Especially artists. Artists specifically request not to be reviewed by us. We scare them. [under his breath] Because we tell the truth.

Good Cop: But that’s not so scary! Maybe that’s why Blog Boss sent us to out to see not one but two Walter Ego shows this past summer. You notice we’ve gotten the call to cover all this summer’s primo shows?

Bad Cop: Hmm, maybe. But you know the real the reason we got the call to cover these two is because Blog Boss is a sadist. You think Blog Boss would have hesitated to go see Walter Ego if those two shows had been anywhere other than Sidewalk? This is Blog Boss’s way of saying to you and me, “You’re really nothing, the B team, you don’t really rate [waves his hand dismissively], you go to Sidewalk and suffer while I hang out in the VIP tent at Lincoln Center.”

Good Cop: Blog Boss’s loss. The sound at Sidewalk was actually pretty good both times Walter Ego played there, in mid-June and then last month. He’s playing there again this month on Sept 13 at 8 PM.

Bad Cop: Oh jesus, does this mean we have to go to Sidewalk again? Why can’t this guy play somewhere else?

Good Cop: C’mon, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed, the music at Sidewalk has improved a lot lately! You wanna know why that is? It’s because Somer is booking the place now…

Bad Cop [surprised, taken off guard]: Wow. That would explain a lot. I know her as a good singer and an excellent sound person so I guess this means she also has good taste. Although there’s still too much of the annoying Beck wannabes and dork-punk crowd there for my taste…

Good Cop: You’re so conditioned to everything in this city going to hell that you’re oblivious when anything good happens.

Bad Cop: I will say that I had fun both times we went to see Walter Ego. If I’m remembering correctly, the first one was quite the party…

Good Cop: No, that was the LJ Murphy show.

Bad Cop [rolls his eyes]: Omigod, you’re right. I don’t remember anything about that…

Good Cop: You’d better because we may be called on to report on it…

Bad Cop: You’re on your own with that one. But I do remember Walter Ego. The June show was longer and featured a lot more of his piano songs – in fact I think the August show didn’t have any piano songs. Which was too bad because I like the songs he plays on piano better than the ones he plays on guitar.

Good Cop: But the guitar songs were great too. The one that the audience really got into, which he played at both shows, was Dan Smith Will Teach You Guitar. A lot of Walter Ego’s songs are devastatingly funny and this is one of them.

Bad Cop: There’s a line in the song that goes, “He taught Berry to duckwalk and Frampton to boxtalk.” That kills me.

Good Cop: Yeah, I’m with you. In case you’re reading this and you’re not from New York, Dan Smith is sort of an urban legend: he’s a guitar teacher who festoons the city with flyers with his face on them…

Bad Cop: And has for 25 years and if the photo is to be believed, he hasn’t aged in 25 years. Needless to say, this is a sarcastic song and the crowd loved it. Another big hit was Mitterrand’s Last Meal. See, François Mitterrand was the President of France back in the 80s, he was ostensibly a socialist but, uh, you could say he kind of straddled the fence. And after a long battle with prostate cancer….

Good Cop: …which he may or may not have gotten from eating oysters from the English Channel that were contaminated by that awful French nuclear waste pipeline…

Bad Cop: …Mitterrand had one last meal before he literally pulled the plug on himself, more or less, and the meal began with an endangered bird that is actually a protected species and is illegal to eat in France. So right there you have a scenario that’s ripe for satire and Walter Ego made the most of it.

Good Cop: There were also a lot of other funny songs, more of those at the August show than the one in June. I really liked the one about simplifying your life, starting out with cutting back on clutter and ending up back in ocean as an amoeba…very Handsome Family, don’t you think?

Bad Cop: I liked the June show better. He did that creepy art-rock anthem I Am the Glass and really aired out his low register. Really Nick Cave-class, that good. And I think, I’m not clear on this, this was awhile ago, there was another morbid one, more of a straight-up noir cabaret tune, Half Past Late. If he didn’t do that one he did A Big Life, which is kind of a bittersweet waltz, a carpe diem message song that didn’t turn out to be trite or maudlin.

Good Cop: I liked the country song about the magician who makes magic disappear, in other words, what a killjoy. And that catchy, bouncy one that sounds like the Kinks, about getting knocked down, starting at the bottom of a new career, etcetera.

Bad Cop: Reputedly – I can’t personally vouch for this, but I’ll pass along the rumor – the September 13 gig will be the one where Walter Ego actually plays his original instrument, the bass, with a band behind him. It’s been awhile since he’s done that.

Good Cop: I can’t wait! Sidewalk, here we come!

Bright, Catchy, Eclectic Newgrass Instrumentals from Vivian Li & the Pickled Campers

Mandolinist Vivian Li‘s newgrass band call themselves the Pickled Campers. They’ve got a delightfully springlike, intriguingly eclectic new instrumental album, Growing in the Cracks streaming at Bandcamp and an album release show on August 16 at 8:30 PM at GSI Studios, 150 W. 28th St. Does this band like to get pickled? And go camping? Maybe both at once? As it turns out, yes! Their sound is a lot tighter and more eclectic than that might suggest: imagine Nickel Creek with a chamber jazz edge, sans the indie affectations, and you’re on the right track. The band’s not-so-secret weapon is violinist Zach Brock, a brilliant jazz bandleader in his own right, with a great new album of his own just out. Flutist Darren Ziller adds more unexpectedly acerbic textures alongside guitarist Ross Martin, horn player Chris Komer and bassist Todd Grunder.

Throughout the album, the playing is tasteful and elegant to the nth degree. The opening track sways along brightly through some uneasy changes, with edgy solos from violin and flute before Li’s mandolin takes it in a sunnier direction. Moses (Free) pairs exploratory mando against washes of violin and flute before the bass brings it together as a pensive waltz; it’s a shadowy, cinematic, intriguing newgrass/jazz hybrid. Brock and Li team up for some gently bouncy riffs to open Grit, then the guitar and flute take elegant solos before Brock turns up the heat.

Likewise, The Next Tune – that’s the title – coalesces into a waltz and then a stroll with more than a hint of Romany jazz, a thoughtful horn solo grounding Brock’s lithe, dancing lines. Lasagna Sky – a trippy sunset image, maybe? – leaps right into a graceful, blues-infused Stephane Grappelli-esque sway, with precise, articulate solos around the horn.

Moth in a Dustpan opens with a sardonic sense of abandonment channeled by a flute/horn duet before the bass and guitar kick off a brisk strut for Brock and Li to dance over; then the band indulge themselves with a droll improvisational interlude. Trickster juxtaposes a trickily kinetic jazz violin theme with indie classical harmonies, sprightly flute, terse horn and guitar, Li capping it off with a warmly incisive crescendo. The album ends up with the jauntily syncopated Golden Apple, the album’s most trad number. None of this music is particularly dark but it has plenty of wit and it’s absolutely unique: there’s no other band that sounds like Vivian Li & the Pickled Campers. Highly recommended for bluegrass and jazz and even classical people.

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