New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

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John Otway Provokes Laughter On the Big Screen and Onstage

As John Otway self-effacingly explained to the crowd at his Sunday concert at Theatre 80 St. Marks, he’s a “microcelebrity” in his native England. He was Spinal Tap before Spinal Tap existed. As documented in Steve Barker’s fascinating new documentary film Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure: The Otway Movie, Otway was on the receiving end of a multimillion-dollar 1977 recording contract from Polydor Records, resulting in little more than a couple of minor UK hits. Apparently the label’s view was that Otway’s exuberant/buffoonish rockstar persona would put them in position to compete with the era’s foremost stadium rock buffoons, the Bay City Rollers. The deal may not have exactly worked out the way the label wanted it to, although there’s no question that today, Otway is more popular than the Bay City Rollers.

As both the movie and Otway’s show revealed, he was always ahead of his time. He was doing crowdsourcing and creating flashmobs before anyone else. His shtick may well have given Christopher Guest the inspiration for Spinal Tap. At this particular concert, he didn’t have his band, but he did have a roadie who did triple duty as offstage chorus, as shill hollering suspiciously well-timed repartee from the aisles, and on one number, as fill-in keyboardist. Much of Otway’s comedy draws heavily from oldtime English vaudeville in the same vein as Monty Python or Neil Innes, especially when baiting the audience is concerned. Another weapon in Otway’s arsenal is improv. His deadpan parody of rockstar narcissism – and the public’s cluelessness about it – is stingingly accurate and often gut-bustingly (and potentially head-bustingly) funny even if it’s sometimes a little obvious. And while the lovably inept one-hit wonder character he channels can’t resist taking a leap of faith and landing on the “fail” button every time, what becomes clear early on is that Otway is actually a decent tunesmith, a perfectly adequate guitarist and in a lot of ways an utterly original if utterly devious creative genius.

Much as his parodies of 70s stadium anthems, by-the-numbers punk rock, disco and heavy metal all had their moments, it was between songs that Otway was funniest. He related how “some people actually come to see me more than once,” that he recalled (accurately or not) being “in the loo and overhearing guys talking about where my guitar capo was, on this fret at one show but on another at the next.” That set up one of the night’s most irresistible musician-insider jokes, concering the challenges of playing solo versus playing with a band.

Otway’s most exuberant comedy is very physical: pratfalls, a ladder and the endangerment of expensive instruments are involved. His funniest is surprisingly subtle. The film goes into more detail than the stage show did about how Otway led a write-in campaign resulting in the BBC putting their imprimatur on his ridiculously absurdist psych-pop song Beware of the Flowers Cause I’m Sure They’re Going to Get You, Yeah as one of the seven greatest lyrics ever written. Because Otway’s humor is not for everyone, he sometimes gets heckled. His solution? Book Abbey Road Studios for a recording of House of the Rising Sun and invite a crowd to come heckle him. “I had to tell them that the crowd was a choir,” he confided, “Abbey Road is a proper studio, you know! And you know that everyone who’s on the record would want a copy for themselves and the mum!” Otway related the incident’s logical Top of the Pops conclusion with a smirking triumph that the crowd couldn’t resist.

At the concert, there was a special bonus, a stripped-down, mostly acoustic opening set by janglerock songwriter Richard X. Heyman and his trio including his wife Nancy on bass and a lead acoustic guitarist playing nimble, bluegrass and blues-infused fills. With richly intertwined, catchy guitar and vocal interplay and soaring harmonies, Heyman led the group through biting, defiant anthems, crescendoing  powerpop and some richly tuneful Britfolk-infused numbers in much the same vein as what Otway probably drew on for his initial inspiration.

A Killer Andrew Bird Concert Sets the Stage for a Similar Show from Tift Merritt

What’s the likelihood of seeing Andrew Bird and Tift Merritt on the same stage, let alone in the same band? It happened at Central Park Summerstage this month when the two Americana music icons joined forces, Bird on violin and a little guitar, Merritt on rhythm guitar as part of a dynamic five-piece band with pedal steel, bass and drums, jauntily exchanging verses with the Chicago songwriter in a set heavy with Handsome Family covers from Bird’s new album Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of.

“In my opinion, Brett and Rennie Sparks are the greatest living American songwriters,” Bird told the sold-out crowd, and he could be right. And Bird, whose own songs are as haunted, and morbid, and literate, and relevant as the Handsome Family’s catalog continues to be, is the ideal person to cover them, if anybody is. Bird and Merritt continue on Bird’s summer tour; Merritt gets a momentary break for a rare, free duo show of her own with Americana guitar genius Eric Heywood coming up on August 7 at 7:30 PM at the Lincoln Center Atrium. Early arrival is a must: 6 PM wouldn’t be too soon since she’s one of the rare artists who still sells out pretty much every room she plays.

Bird opened his show with a handful of intricately rhythmic, solo songs, fingerpicking his violin like a mandolin, his Spinning Double Speaker Horn behind him providing spooky, keening effects as he built layers of loops that spun back hypnotically through the mix. From there the band joined him, eventually gathering in a circle around a central mic before dispersing as the concert built momentum. They moved methodically through a nonchalantly bouncing take of the Handsome Family’s Danse Caribe, a moody, allusive version of Sifters, all the way through to the first encores, the fire-and-brimstone cautionary tale MX Missiles, which made a creepily apt segue with Handsome Family’s Cathedrals. On the way there, the young, touristy crowd were treated to uneasy versions of Tin Foil, Dear Old Greenland, Effigy and the understatedly savage post-9/11 anti-Bush/Cheney parable When the Helicopter Comes. The group also took their time through a lingering, ominous version of Pulaski at Night and the sardonic Something Biblical. With his wary, precise vocals matching the incisive focus of his violin playing, Bird was an intense presence, holding the group together as if they were on a secret mission. Merritt’s indomitable energy and soaring harmonies made a strong complement, livening the more upbeat, country-flavored numbers with her smoke-tinged wail.

Wild, Diverse Global Energy Overflows at Lincoln Center

Last night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors was an exhilarating if somewhat underappreciated mix of global sounds. Opening night of this year’s festival on the 20th of the month, a Pete Seeger tribute kicked off by none other than Judy Collins, was a mobscene rivaled here in recent years only by the overflow crowd at the 2010 staging of pianist Larry Harlow’s iconic salsa jazz suite, La Raza Latina.

A performance of some rather arch indie classical and contemporary ballet pieces this past Friday drew a smaller and less diverse crowd, but the diversity was back last night in epic force, at least musically speaking. Assembled by the prime movers of Globalfest, the evening had every bit of eclecticism and often delirious energy as their annual January Webster Hall celebration of mostly dance-oriented sounds from around the world, a spinoff of the APAP booking agents’ convention. Originating before the youtube era, the concert gives venue bookers and the public alike a chance to sample party music of pretty much every stripe throughout a series of what are essentially longform auditions. There’s literally something for everyone, as there was all over the Lincoln Center complex last night. Don’t like canned beats? Leave the underground parking garage (where the promoters had cleverly stashed that stuff away) and go to the park out back for a funky Indian jamband, or to the plaza for some Mexican brass music.

Around the corner from the opera hall, Colombian-American psychedelic cumbia band M.A.K.U. Soundsystem stole the show, and the crowd from Red Baraat – who were half a block south, in Damrosch Park – with their slinky, moodily triumphant grooves, reaffirming their status as one of New York’s best bands. And they left no doubt that at this point, cumbia has superseded reggae as this era’s default global party music. What’s coolest about cumbia is that a lot of it is pretty creepy, a quality underscored by keyboardist Felipe Quiroz’s sepulchrally tremoloing organ. Bassist/frontman Juan Ospina played bitingly catchy, hypnotically bouncy riffs and sang in tandem with multi-percussionist Liliana Conde, alongside guitar, conga, drums and a punchy two-trombone horn section (joined at the end by an esteemed Colombian tenor saxophonist whose introduction got lost in a flurry of applause). The band’s lyrics, mostly in Spanish, celebrate diversity and global unity in a surprisingly poetic way, without being either trite or saccharine, over loping, undulating minor-key vamps punctuated by animated percussion breaks and menacingly swirly keyboard riffs. One of the casually defiant tracks from the band’s latest vinyl ep, Musica Nunca Muere (The Music Never Dies) pretty much said it all. If the IWW had embraced cumbia instead of marching band music, maybe the Wobblies really would have taken over the world.

The evening’s single best performance – and funniest moment onstage – might have been from New Orleans “Russian mafia band” Debauche. Toward the end of their bristling, boisterous, hourlong set, given the “ten more minutes” sign from the sound booth, they responded by speeding up until they were going doublespeed and then even faster. More bands should do that! Frontman/acoustic guitarist Yegor Romantsov evoked another charismatic Slavic rock bandleader, Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz, as he made his way through edgy minor-key Russian-language romps about duplicitous women, deals gone bad, a love song reinvented from a lesbian perspective, and a mashup of a Jewish wedding song and a happy-go-lucky Mexican folk tune. Their was a distinct klezmer influence in many of the songs, from a sarcastically swaying hi-de-ho anthem, to a series of bouncily brooding, clarinet-and-violin-fueled shuffles. An attempt to get the heavily Russian crowd to sing along on Bublichki, the opening track on the band’s album Cossacks on Prozac – which would be better titled Cossacks on Coke – met with mixed results. But there was a big crowd down front dancing. And somehow the bull fiddle survived being climbed on by both the the burly guy who was playing it, as well as the coyly energetic woman playing standup bass drum and tambourine.

Sandwiched in between the cumbia and the klezmer rock were an eight-piece edition of Brooklyn’s Banda de los Muertos, who do both original and traditional Sinaloa-style brass music with trombones, horns, trumpets, woodwinds and drums. Most of their set had a breezy, good-natured sway, through a mix of ranchera waltzes, a Los Tigres del Norte cover and Marty Robbins’ El Paso reinvented as a mariachi brass theme. Trumpets and trombones got most of the solos and made the most of them, Ben Holmes and Brian Drye getting the choicest parts. Mariachi Flor de Toloache frontwoman Mireya Ramos took the music in a strikingly intense, imploring direction with her powerful, angst-fueled, melismatic vocals on a bolero, Te Quiero Tanto, written by the band’s frontman/clarinetist’s aunt. And then Ramos led the group back onto more upbeat turf.

Opening the night in Damrosch Park, Moroccan/Israeli crooner Emil Zrihan delivered an often riveting, impassioned performance worthy of a headliner, backed by his regular accordionist and an inspired pickup band who played seamlessly despite having been assembled at the last minute (the rest of the singer’s band were back in Israel, having been unable to get visas). Zrihan blends sounds from a millenium worth of Andalucian music as well as Sephardic cantorial themes, with an occasional detour toward klezmer or rai. His smartly dynamic, nonchalantly crescendoing take of the classic protest song Ya Rayyeh was well-received by the small but electrified crowd gathered in the shade toward the front of the stage. Zrihan and the accordion slowly jammed their way into many of the numbers, climbing to melismatic peaks that sometimes took on operatic exuberance or angst against a tightly swaying, rhythmically tricky backdrop of acoustic guitar, violin and twin hand drums.

And it was too bad that there weren’t more people in the park to catch Brazilian dub band BaianaSystem. Although a lot of what they had was on tape (or in the mixing board, or coming from somebody’s phone), their slow, slinky pulse made for an aptly nocturnal sendoff to the few who remained, ending the night with fat, tersely emphatic bass, long, ominously chromatic solos from electric guitarra baiana player Robertinho Barreto and rapidfire, reggaeton-style Portuguese lyrics from frontman Russo Passapusso.

Yet Another Great Album from the Old Crow Medicine Show

Is there a band anywhere in the world who are more fun than the Old Crow Medicine Show? In an age of overproduced, digitized-ad-nauseum albums, it’s amazing how the OCMS manages to capture the unhinged energy of their live shows in the studio. No wonder that they’re one of those bands that pretty much everybody loves. Giving them the front page here probably doesn’t mean anything in terms of ramping up their fan base – it just means that this blog isn’t asleep on the job! Their latest album is titled Remedy, streaming at Spotify; as usual, they’re on summer tour.

The new album’s first track is Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer: it’s a slinky, banjo-fueled, twisted killler’s tale, and it wouldn’t be fair to spoil the ending. That capsulizes OCMS’s appeal: killer oldtime Americana chops, funny lyrics, unstoppable energy. The lickety-split fiddle tune 8 Dogs 8 Banjos celebrates all the good things in life, from hot coffee and sweet tea to corn liquor and dirtweed. Although it’s one of the album’s quieter songs, the bittersweetly swaying, accordion-driven, Celtic-tinged Sweet Amarillo is also one of its best.

The band – Kevin Hayes on “guitjo;” Cory Younts on mandolin, keyboards and drums; Critter Fuqua on slide guitar, banjo and guitar; Chance McCoy on guitar, fiddle and banjo; Ketch Secor on fiddle, harmonica and banjo; Gill Landry on slide guitar and banjo; and Morgan Jahnig on bass – pick up the pace with the scampering kiss-off anthem Mean Enough World, an acoustic take on Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan. The somber graveside scenario Dearly Departed Friend has a creepy, spot-on redneck surrealism: it’s a good companion piece to Lorraine Leckie’s Don’t Giggle at the Corpse. Firewater is a midtempo drinking song with soaring pedal steel, while Brave Boys takes a rapidfire detour into Irish territory.

Doc’s Day is a good-natured, harmonica-fueled country blues tune, setting the stage for the darkly rustic Cumberland River, spiced by some fiery fiddle from McCoy. The band goes back to a brisk Appalachian bounce for Tennessee Bound and then hits a peak on Shit Creek, a punkgrass take on an oldtimey high-water-rising theme. The hobo swing tune Sweet Home could be the Wiyos or for that matter, the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The album ends on an unexpectedly brooding note with The Warden, which challenges the guy running the prison to look in the mirror and see if he’s really human after all. Brilliant musicianship and tunesmithing, clever wordsmithing, traditionalist chops, and everybody sings. What more could you possibly want on a hot summer night?

 

Serena Jost Brings Her Elegantly Gorgeous Cello Rock to Barbes

Good Cop: Serena Jost and her band play elegant, old-world, allusively beautiful songs. Listening to her, I’d want a glass of wine, maybe a single malt. Like something they’d have at Barbes. But malt liquor? No way!

Bad Cop: Way. Nothing goes with a Serena Jost show like a few Crazy Horse tallboys.

Good Cop: So that’s what you were up to on June 29th. Daydrunk on a Saturday afternoon. What bar serves that crap, anyway?

Bad Cop: Bar? I went to the deli. Then I went to to the community garden on 8th Street.

Good Cop: I thought you weren’t supposed to drink there…

Bad Cop: Who do you think created New York community gardens? People who drink bespoke locavore artisanal tea?

Good Cop: OK, you have a point. And I know your old hangout, Lakeside Lounge, is gone now. But Crazy Horse, damn, that stuff is foul…

Bad Cop: The true taste of cardboard! But anyway, what was coolest about that Saturday was that aside from having a nice place in the shade to kick back with a beer, there was a great band. Fender Rhodes, bass and drums. Slow, slinky, minor-key funk grooves: the ultimate soundtrack for a beautiful summer day in New York. According to the sign on the garden gate, as far as I can remember, the band was called Vic & the People, but I googled them and didn’t get any results.

Good Cop: What were they playing? Originals?

Bad Cop: I guess. Long bluesy instrumental jams, basically. Kind of funky, a little jazz, a little latin influence. The whole band was good. Pretty psychedelic too. No wanky bass solos, no coked-out drum solos, just good summery New York music.

Good Cop: I would have enjoyed that. You should have texted me!

Bad Cop: I thought you’d be on the train so I didn’t. But that put me in a perfect mood for Serena Jost’s show at the Rockwood afterward. It was great to get sort of lost in one band and then get completely lost in another. My favorite part of her show was that big swell out of the verse into the chorus of Sweet Mystery. That’s such a catchy song. On one hand, you start nodding your head to that Motown beat, you know the crescendo is coming a mile away, but you want it so bad, and then you get it…oh baby. That was heaven.

Good Cop: And you can hear it for yourself when Serena Jost and her band play Barbes at 8 PM on July 31. They make a great segue with the headliners, Kotorino, who are playing at 10 and are one of the best bands in New York. They mix latin sounds with noir cabaret and circus rock and like Serena’s band, they have a very lush sound. Although Kotorino have more of a brass band and jazz influence, where Serena’s sound is more classically oriented.

Bad Cop: She’s a cellist. All cellists have that classical thing. She’s a symphony orchestra player. And she was in Rasputina for probably longer than anybody except Melora Creager.

Good Cop: Yeah, that in itself is an accomplishment. Let’s tell the people about the Rockwood show, which should give everybody a good idea of what we can look forward to at Barbes…

Bad Cop: OK. They opened with A Bird Will Sing, which is the title track on her most recent album. A swinging art-pop song that the crowd of douchebags who were at the bar, after the band before, hollered and blabbered through. They didn’t give a shit. Amateur hour: Jersey assholes completely blitzed on one beer. But then they started to clear out and you could hear the band. Amazing band, too: Julian Maile on guitar, Rob Jost – no relation – on bass, Robert DiPietro on drums.

Good Cop: My favorite song in the set was Great Conclusions, which has this lithely dancing, ballet-like verse and then this heavy, bada-BUMP, bada-BUMP heavy metal groove on the chorus. Who would have thought, you know?

Bad Cop: The Move would have done something like that. But that’s oldschool. Early 70s. Nice to see somebody doing that kind of thing these days. Not that there aren’t other good art-rock bands out there.

Good Cop: You think anybody knows what we mean by art-rock?

Bad Cop: That’s a good question. The term goes back to the 70s. Pink Floyd, ELO, Procol Harum, you know…

Good Cop: …the Universal Thump, Botanica, Kotorino.

Bad Cop: Exactly. Second song of the set: douchebags haven’t completely cleared out of the bar yet. Luscious bittersweet major-minor changes. Serena’s playing guitar which isn’t her main instrument but she’s good at it anyway. And that bruised, haunted voice: I love her songs but I can’t figure out what any of them are about.

Good Cop: Maybe she’s trying to draw you in. Maybe you should listen more closely..

Bad Cop: Hmmm…no objection there! Next song: sort of slow Highway 61 Dylan doing Fairport Convention. Wow, it’s an instrumental! With wordless vocals! I had forgotten about that!

Good Cop: I tell you, we’re taking over this blog. We get to see all the best shows.

Bad Cop: Let’s do play-by-play for the rest of the Rockwood gig and then wrap this up. An absolutely gorgeously soaring, swaying, hypnotic Britfolk-flavored waltz with some out-of-this-world vocals. A couple of BUMP-badda-BUMP cello-rock anthems, including your favorite.

Good Cop; You sure you want to wrap this up so quickly?

Bad Cop: Blog Boss says to remember that nobody has time to spend a lot of time at a music blog. People work for a living. Everybody’s exhausted.

Good Cop: OK, I’m listening back to your recording, who’s that playing accordion?

Bad Cop: Accordion? Serena Jost doesn’t have an accordion player. Oh wait, that’s Isle of Klezbos. Another East Village garden show. More on that later…

Good Cop: So are we going to Serena’s show on the 31st at Barbes?

Bad Cop: Sure, why not. It’s free, anyway. If Blog Boss doesn’t approve, tough. We just might write about it anyway. You know where I can get a can of Crazy Horse in Park Slope?

Good Cop: I think the further downhill you go, the more likely you are to find it. That’s a double entendre, by the way…

The Jones Family Singers Bring Their Texas Gospel Soul to Lincoln Center

Ever notice how so many storefront churches have great bands? The Jones Family Singers, who make their New York debut at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on July 30 at 6:30 PM, have been raising the roof at their home base, Mount Zion Church of God in Christ in Markham, Texas, since the 80s. They’ve got a new album out, The Spirit Speaks, streaming at Spotfy. Musically speaking, they blend oldschool soul and funk in much the same vein as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, or a more rousing take on what that band’s labelmates, Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, have been doing around New York over the last few years.

The band’s not-so-secret weapon is multi-instrumentalist Fred Allen Jones Jr., who distinguishes himself on lead guitar, bass, keys and sometimes even drums. Patriarch Bishop Fred Jones, his dad, fronts the band, alongside Kenneth Jones on bass, Matthew Hudlin and Ian Wade sharing the drum chair, with torrential lead and harmony vocals from Sarah M. Jones, Alexis Jones, Ernestine Ray, Sabrina Freeman, Velma “Mice” Davis, Theresa Patrelle and Duane Edward Herbert. It’s an interesting mix: a mighty wash of vocals alongside a terse, no-wasted-notes, mostly mid-60s style groove, recorded with tasteful, uncluttered arrangements, probably to analog tape.

The women in the band carry Down on Me over a scampering early 70s Motown vamp until the bandleader takes over – it makes a good clapalong kickoff for a show, or for a Sunday service. Going Home takes the ambience forward in time about fifteen years or so: imagine a strolling midtempo Al Jarreau ballad without the cheesy synthesizers. With its combination of eerie imagery and a message that’s ultimately hopeful, Bones in the Valley serves as a funky launching pad for some impassioned call-and response, Jones senior leading the way with his gritty baritone.

Made Up My Mind has the band working a suspenseful motorway pulse with tinges of latin and salsa music beneath the women’s mighty voices. Leaning on You takes an easygoing early 80s Grover Washington Jr.-style sway with elegant, jazzy guitar and fortifies it with the Bishop’s insistent vocals – it’s a love song to a higher power.

I Am has a darkly bluesy, bouncy mid 60s Little Milton-ish drive – is that Sarah M. Jones singing “I am your waymaker?” By contrast, You Woke Me Up This Morning has an irrepressible, cheery stomp, Bishop Jones jamming out over the womens’ tight harmonies. Then they take it down just a little with Preacher Man – and bring up again on the wings of some Rainy Night in Georgia guitar.

The album winds up with the tightly rising, upbeat 60s soul tune Through It All and then Try Jesus, a showcase for the band’s many individualistic voices. Even if you don’t share the group’s faith in Jesus to get through the hard times, this is great dance music. Fans of another gospel paradigm-shifter, Brooklyn’s Rev. Vince Anderson won’t be disappointed.

A Killer New Twang and Surf Rock Album from the Bakersfield Breakers

The Bakersfield Breakers are one of New York’s funnest and most intriguing bands. They play twangy surf and country-flavored instrumentals inspired by Buck Owens’ wickedly catchy, Telecaster-fueled early 60s sound. There are times when you can’t tell this band apart from their influences, whether they’re doing reverbtoned Ventures themes, rugged Merle Haggard-style C&W, elegantly moody countrypolitan, even a rampaging cover of the Dick Dale classic The Wedge. They’ve got an amazing new album out, In the Studio with the Bakersfield Breakers, streaming at Bandcamp and a whole slew of shows coming up. They’re at South St. Seaport today, July 22 at noon for all you folks in the Financial District, then at Otto’s at 9 tomorrow night, July 23, then a gig at Sidewalk on July 27 at 6 and on the Coney Island Boardwalk on August 16 at 2 PM with a bunch of other instrumental and surf bands.

This band is all about tunes and textures: a clang, a crash, biting staccato, lingering jangle and everything in between from Keith Yaun’s multitracked guitars, he does it all. Bassist John Hamilton and drummer John DiGiulio team up through shuffles, surfy stomp and more subtle, gentler grooves. All of Yaun’s wild spiraling on the opening track, BB Breakdown, makes you forget that the band is just playing simple blues changes. The aptly titled Longing blends a sad, spiky mix of honkytonk, incisive blues and Britfolk licks and moody ranchera rock.

Hawaiian War Chant is basically a mashup of Buck Owens’ Buckaroo and the Charles Mingus classic Haitian Fight Song. Gored by a Board has a sarcastic edge: Weird Al couldn’t have done a Dick Dale sendup any better than this. They follow that with a precise, twangy reinvention of the Tennessee Waltz and then the Owens-ish boogie Honcho.

Stingray has more of the Buckaroo allusions – and some cool fuzz bass leads from Hamilton. Summer Sunset builds a wistful, regretful mood: it’s the most Lynchian of all the tracks here. Yaun builds to a series of sizzling electrified bluegrass licks on STP, then alludes to George Harrison on Whispering Guitar, right down to the watery Abbey Road-era chorus-box sonics. And speaking of the Beatles, the trio very cleverly interpolate a Fab Four classic into their cover of the Monkees’ Pleasant Valley Sunday.

New Paltz starts out sounding as if it’s going to be another series of variations on the Tennessee Waltz, but then goes a lot further afield. There are also two strolling takes of Just Holding Your Hand here, one instrumental and the other with a nuanced countrypolitan vocal by a mystery guest chanteuse. Is this the best rock instrumental album of 2014? The upcoming album by Big Lazy is the only foreseeable competition.

Roots Reggae Survivors Third World: Revitalized in Downtown Brooklyn

What’s the likelihood that any band from the 70s would still be any good, especially with just a few of their original members left? In the case of roots reggae band Third World, they’ve survived not only forty years in business, but also the tragic death of well-liked frontman Bunny Rugs (who was witnessed just last year by this blog taking an animated turn on vocals out in front of Sly and Robbie). But the band has soldiered on with a new singer, AJ Brown, who might have given them a shot in the arm. Their outdoor show Thursday, staged by BAM in a scruffy downtown Brooklyn park, was surprisingly energetic, unexpectedly eclectic and a lot of fun.

What amazed the crowd the most was when guitarist and founding member Stephen Coore took a turn on cello, making his way methodically through parts of a Bach invention, a handful of classic reggae themes, a verse of the Marley classic Redemption Song and a little Beethoven to cap it off. By the time he and the band – who played along perfectly – reached that point, everybody’s phone was in the air. Otherwise, intentionally or not, the rest of the set was a sort of capsule history of roots reggae. The seven-piece group went down into a handful of brief dub interludes, did a bit of Nyabinghi drumming (kicked off by a blaring prerecorded sample of a women’s chorus), played an unlikely portion of vamping classic roots grooves as well as the jazz-inflected 70s reggae-pop they’re best remembered for. The bass and drum’s one-drop grooves were solid and uncluttered, the two keyboardists – one on synthesized brass and occasional electric piano, the other on organ and string synth – stayed away from cheesy voicings for the most part, and Coore stuck mostly to rhythm as well, adding a couple of gritty, blues-infused guitar solos.

It was good to hear the band’s most politically-charged hit, 96 Degrees in the Shade, a moody look back at simmering, late 70s Kingston violence. It was even better to hear it in the shade at about twenty degrees cooler than that, along with a handful of similar, straight-up, vamping rootsy numbers. But Third World’s signature sound was always more complex than your typical two-chord roots jam, from their early days as a cover band playing American urban top 40 songs in Jamaica in the early 70s. Drawing on the jazz harmonies and ornate vocals of American acts like the Stylistics, Third World’s 70s hits and albums had a glossy sheen that stood apart from their more rustic, African-inspired brethren (and some would say, made them a lot more lightweight). But Coore and bassist Richard Daley still have their voices, joining in the harmonies of reggae-pop hits like Committed and an extended, practically straight-up disco version of their closing hit, Now That We’ve Found Love, amusingly missing a couple of cues to jump back onto a long outro – but that’s one of the reasons why reggae shows are fun.

At this point in history,  roots reggae is a legacy genre, like bluegrass or Chicago blues. The people who play it either tend to be either hippies, who jam it out with mixed results, or purer-than-thou purists who play it like it’s something from a museum. It’s good to see some of the guys who were there in the beginning still playing it like their lives depended on it. Which in the case of this band is probably true. People who see them on their upcoming west coast tour might be in for a pleasant surprise.

Catchy, Hard-Edged, Surrealistic Metal Cumbia and Skaragga from the Butcher Knives

It would be easy to write the Butcher Knives off as Gogol Bordello wannabes. But they’re not. Their debut album, Misery – streaming here – puts them on the same carnivalesque, ska and punk-influenced latin rock turf as Outernational, with more digital production values but also more minor-key Balkan menace. They’re playing the Mercury at around midnight on July 26; cover is $10.

15 Minutes sets disco bass over a muted hardcore beat, with a catchy minor-key hook, a surreal lyric about driving through burning neighborhoods and a brief but tasty tremolo-picked Nikko Matiz guitar solo. “You have to run, you have to hide, can you imagine what that feels like?” frontman Nacho Segura demands on American Dream, a galloping highway rock theme juxtaposed with ska-punk. Butcher Knives Unite is the band’s signature song, a briskly bouncy cumbia shout-out to immigrants feeling the pinch.

Could Be the End starts out by nicking the intro from Elvis Costello’s Watching the Detectives and morphs into steady brisk spaghetti western rock, with a cool, offcenter Ethan Cohen banjo solo out. Drunken Down mixes eerie southwestern gothic tinges into scampering circus rock: the blend of Matiz’s guitar and Tal Galfsky’s organ textures is just plain gorgeous. The album’s title track is a rapidfire metal cumbia tune with a sarcastically marching edge and another brief, bizarre banjo outro.

Nobody Knows Me, one of two tracks featuring rapper Ephniko, also gets a lot of mileage out of that out-of-tune banjo, hitting a slow, slinky cumbia groove. Pigs is the closest thing to Gogol Bordello here, a banjo-fueled punk stomp with a chorus of “drop the gun, drop the gun.” Step on the Line mixes GB surrealism with gothic border rock fueled by a spicy blend of Melissa Elledge’s accordion, Galfsky’s swirly organ and Cohen’s frailing banjo over a pulse that’s just short of frantic. And Tell Me Why has a similar mix of southwestern gothic and punk propulsion. The band’s politics are solid: they’re not afraid to be pro-immigrant, their Spanish/English lyrics take an aptly cynical view of American “freedom,” and you can dance to everything here.

Glen David Andrews Delivers Redemption for Your Soul

Trombonist/bandleader/singer/shouter Glen David Andrews proudly represents the New Orleans gospel tradition. His songs draw on two hundred years of African-American music, but also find new places to take his signature blend of gospel, soul and funk. He’s got a new album, Redemption – streaming at Bandcamp – and an upcoming show at Brooklyn Bowl on July 23 at 8 PM; tix are $15.

The hard-rocking opening track, NY to Nola opens with a blast of electric guitar noise, then connects the dots between NYC hip-hop lyrical brilliance and the equally ghoulish Crescent City literary tradition that predated it. Andrews finds room to comment sardonically on other similarities between the cities: we’ve got Rikers, they’ve got Angola.

Chariot, the first of three tracks feautring Ivan Neville, updates a classic spiritual theme over graceful, churchy organ and gently echoey electric piano. Bad By Myself – as in “I can do bad by myself, I don’t need nobody’s help” – struts along on a mid-70s funk groove, Andrews hitting a peak with a growling trombone solo over a river of organ. A vamping take of the gospel clapalong Didn’t It Rain “features” Mahalia Jackson by way of brief samples at the beginning and end.

The album’s title track builds to a triumphant, organ-fueled Muscle Shoals sway pushed along by guest Jamison Ross behind the kit. The instrumental Kool Breeze goes back to a biting 70s funk vibe, with wryly conversational horns, snapping bass and trebly guitar building to a catchy, anthemic chorus that brings to mind mid-70s Stevie Wonder. Speaking of that guy, that’s who Andrews nicks on the next track, Movin’ Up, delivering a grittily impassioned song of praise over some familiar AM radio changes.

The down-and-dirty, funky Lower Power ponders the lure of various temptations and features some wailing guitar work from guest Anders Osborne. With its tumbling beat, burning guitars, suspenseful pauses and Andrews’ hoarsely insistent delivery, You Don’t Know blends a classic Rolling Stones edge with an oldschool call-and-response theme. Something to Believe In has just bass, vocals and percussion, winding up the album with an aptly rustic storefront church ambience. All this more than hints that Andrews is a real powerhouse when he has an audience to testify to.

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