New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: rock en espanol

Lila Downs Brings Her Intense, Relevant South-of-the-Border Sounds to Town This Weekend

Fiery, perennially relevant Mexican folk-rock songwriter Lila Downs has a new album out, Raiz – streaming at Spotify- and a show at the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center at 7 PM tonight, Oct 10 and tomorrow night, Oct 11. At this point, the only real way you’re going to get into either of them might be with $10 “hot seats” and student rush tickets which might be available: hit the box office an hour before showtime and find out what’s left.

An artist with a devoted cult following in this country, Downs’ embrace of her Mexican roots has made her one of the most popular stadium concert draws south of the border. Interestingly, she doesn’t play a lot of New York shows: Summerstage, a Bronx theatre, El Museo del Barrio and a City Winery gig that sold out in seconds have been pretty much it in recent years. Kind of surprising for one of the world’s elite singers and songwriters.

Since the new album – sort of the equivalent of the Dolly Parton/Emmylou Harris/Linda Ronstadt trio albums for the Spanish-speaking diaspora – is a collaboration with flamenco chanteuse Niña Pastori and Argentine folk-pop singer Soledad Pastorutti, it’s a good bet that her live show is going to draw just as heavily on her album before that, 2011′s eerily carnivalesque Pecados y Milgaros (also streaming at Spotify). As Downs typically does, she mixes covers with originals. Downs’ songs on that one include the phantasmagorically scampering drinking song Mezcalito; Zapata Se Queda, a similarly somber reggae tune; La Reyna Del Inframundo, a metaphorically bristling narcocorrida; a wary, stately ranchera/cumbia mashup, Pecadora (with Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas); and Solamente un Dia, a hazily psychedelic bachata number. The covers drawn on sources as diverse as Marco Antonio Solis ( a raptly waltzing take of Tu Carcel) and Cuco Sánchez (a meticulous, almost comically retro version of Fallaste Corazón) and other folkloric material. Downs delivers all this in her signature, disarmingly direct, insistent, slightly gritty alto.

In retrospect, the ambitious scope of Pecados y Milgaros foreshadows what Downs (and her label guys) may have been thinking where she could go with the new album. Frankly, Pastorutti comes across as out of her element alongside the two heavy hitters – and Downs ends up being the star here, almost despite herself. And the production, though lush with tasteful orchestration, is slicker and more digital than Downs’ usual organic sound. Again, Downs’ originals here are particularly tasty (pun intended): the bubbly Cumbia Del Mole, the even more psychedelic cumbia Agua De Rosas, the jazzily nocturnal Tierra de la Luz and a harder-rocking albeit less successful reprise of Zapata Se Queda. Pastori more than holds up her own throughout the more continental material. Kudos – and schadenfreude – to those who had the foresight and the funds to get tickets to this weekend’s shows when they went onsale.

New York Bands We Take For Granted: The Perennially Fun Chicha Libre

Musicians call it the curse of the residency. In New York, after all, bands typically don’t build a following: you play to your friends. Book yourself into a weekly residency for a month and see everybody come out for the first and last shows…if you’re lucky. Chicha Libre have managed to beat the odds, on a Monday night, of all nights. By all rights, the Brooklyn chicha revivalists would be entitled to weekends at Barbes, considering that the frontman/cuatro player and lead guitarist own the joint. But they graciously let other bands play Fridays and Saturdays and do their weekly residency/live rehearsal on a Monday…which is genius in a way, since it turns a dead night into a crazy party that probably earns the bar just as much as a Saturday.

Chicha Libre get extra props for singlehandedly spearheading the psychedelic cumbia revival: without them, it’s probably safe to say that the wild, trippy sounds of legendary Peruvian bands like Los Destellos, Los Mirlos and Juaneco y Su Combo would never have made it out of Peru. What Chicha Libre does is exactly what those cult acts were doing forty years ago, mashing up Colombian cumbia, British psychedelia and American surf rock into a trebly, trippy, intoxicating, indelibly Peruvian stoner blend. It works just as well as dance music as it does stoner music; that Chicha Libre are recognized as giants of the genre in Peru speaks to how well they’ve assimilated it. “Sorry we’re late,” cuatro player Olivier Conan told the crowd packed into the back room there a couple of Mondays ago, “It’s our only claim to authenticity.” He was being modest.

They opened and closed their first set with the silly stuff: first Flight of the Valkyries reinvented as a droll cumbia, complete with a long, echoey, dubwise intro from Josh Camp’s wah-wah electric accordion. He would go on to reference 70s arenarock schlockmeisters Styx not once but twice – this band can do funny as well as they do trippy and creepy. The last song was a cumbia version of the mid-70s instrumental novelty hit Popcorn, which they ended with a good-natured shout-out to good weed and the corn liquor (sort of the Peruvian equivalent of Olde English) from which the band takes their name. In between they did the surreal, creepy stuff, lots of it, one of the best sets they’ve ever played on their home turf.

The apprehensively Satie-esque 11 Tejones (a tejon is a badger) had echoey, resonant, tersely spaced Vincent Douglas Telecaster licks mingling with Camp’s swirly, funereal organ lines. The trickly shapeshifting Depresion Tropical – third world economics as oncoming storm – kept the uneasy slink going, followed by Papageno Electrico with its irresistible, bittersweetly ominous chorus. For diehard chicha fans, it takes a slinky early 80s style synth tune ten years back in time, when Los Destellos and their compadres were doing it much more organically and psychedelically.

After that the band treated the crowd to a long, trippy take of the Los Mirlos classic Sonido Amazonico, the title track of Chicha Libre’s brilliant 2008 debut album, Camp’s lighthearted salsa organ solo handing off to a long, hallucinatory, sunbaked one from Douglas. From there, they segued into a couple of covers, the second being another Los Mirlos tune, the scampering Muchachita Del Oriente, Douglas’ spaghetti western guitar set against a long, hypnotically crescendoing twin solo from timbalera Karina Colis and an invigorated sub conga player. They wound up the set with a raw, rugged cumbia take of the Clash’s Guns of Brixton and then a similarly edgy, sarcastic original, La Danza Del Millionario.

And a show back in August where Conan was AWOL featured a second lead guitarist firing off lightning-fast flurries of tapping and seriously metal cumbia in his place. Maybe because the guest guitarist was more familiar with iconic chicha material than Chicha Libre’s songs, that set featured a lot more stuff by Los Destellos and Juaneco. You never know what you’r going to get with this crew. And everybody was dancing. Are Chicha Libre the funnest band in New York or what? They’re back at Barbes next Monday, Sept 29 at 9:30 or so and pretty much every other Monday this year: check the Barbes calendar.

La Santa Cecilia Bring Their Individualistic, Eclectic Latin Rock to Highline Ballroom

Marisol Hernandez, frontwoman of La Santa Cecilia, figured out that the crowd at their Summerstage show a couple of months ago might not have them figured out. She shrugged and grinned. “We like a lot of stuff, we can’t figure out what this band’s about.” Which is probably just as well, considering how intuitively well they played every style they tackled. The group didn’t waste any time getting the party started with a slinky, minor key psychedelic cumbia and followed that with a reggae-tinged number. The next tune rocked harder, guitarist Marco Sandoval firing off a frenetically noisy solo that built to a wickedly sarcastic, dismissive peak. Then they tackled the old Mexican folk standard La Morena and did it as pretty straight up son jarocho folk.

That diversity is what sets so many of this era’s latin rock bands apart from their counterparts in the indie rock twee-topia. Where the pretty boys of Bushwick and Lake Wayzata all try to sound the same, the crews from Corona and East LA and south of the border all want an individual style and will play anything that makes them stand out. La Santa Cecilia are no exception. The rest of their energetic set featured a couple of bouncy minor-key Mexican border rock tunes, and a Freddy Fender-ish Tex-Mex reflection on taking one’s time with a relationshiop in the Facebook era. On that one, Marisol went off mic and wowed the crowd with her powerful alto voice. Then Sandoval dedicated a droll, Beatlesque psych-rock anthem titled Campos de Fresas (whose original English version you might know) to the world’s undocumented farm workers, capping it off with a rich, rain-drenched solo played through a vintage chorus pedal just as George Harrison did on the original. La Santa Cecilia return to New York with a show at Highline Ballroom on Sept 18 at 8 PM: $15 adv tix are highly recommended.

Summer Memories: A Great, Obscure Show by SLV

SLV are one of the most entertaining bands in New York to watch. They’re all about textures, meaning that everybody in the band is constantly shifting from one thing to another. Frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Sandra Lilia Velasquez’s other band, Pistolera, plays pretty straight-up jangly rock with a Mexican folk edge. This band is a lot more complicated. Velasquez writes very simple, catchy, direct themes, then builds them kaleidoscopically with an endlessly psychedelic stream of timbral shifts and exchanges between instruments over a hypnotic groove that sometimes rises with a completely unexpected explosiveness. Portishead and Stereolab seem to be strong influences, as is Sade (a singer Velasquez has grown to resemble, but with more bite and energy) and possibly artsy pop bands from the new wave era like ABC and Ultravox.

SLV played a big gig earlier this summer at South Street Seaport that was reputedly very well-attended (this blog wasn’t there). Hot on the heels of that one, they played another one at a small venue way uptown that was not. From the perspective of one of maybe two customers in the entire house, it was like getting a personal SLV show, and that was a lot of fun. Velasquez sang in both English and Spanish with her eyes closed, lost in the dreamy wash of textures floating over the groove – except when she was trading animated riffs with guitarist Mark Marshall, bassist/keyboardist Jordan Scannella and drummer Sean Dixon.

The show was more of a single, integral experience than a series of songs. Marshall kicked it off with with a hammering drum duel with Dixon before the bandleader took the song in a hazy, Sade-esque direction – her moody alto delivery has never been more expressive or enticing. They kept a similarly gauzy/jaunty dichotomy going through the next song, then Velasquez switched from guitar to keys for a number something akin to a funkier update on Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill. From there they made their way through an intricately rhythmic, swaying number that contrasted ambient atmospherics with Marshall’s incisive, stabbing lines.

The most intense number of the night was the most stripped-down one, History, Marshall playing its brooding Neil Young-esque changes as Velasquez intoned the lyrics – a caustic commentary on media duplicity - with a muted anger. Through a Pink Floyd-ish interlude with a spine-tingling, Gilmouresque Marshall guitar solo, an artsy 80s-tinged trip-hop number, and a Beatles/tango mashup with some deliciously icy vintage chorus-box guitar, the band kept up the endless series of elegant handoffs and exchanges. They closed with a jangly, biting version of Never Enough, the opening track on the band’s Meshell Ndgeocello-produced ep, sounding something like a trip-hop version of the old Golden Earring hit Twilight Zone. SLV are back in the studio now; keep your eyes posted for some of this new material to surface sooner than later.

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.

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.

Ani Cordero’s Recordar Celebrates Freedom Fighters and the Anthems That Kept Them Going

Ani Cordero has a backstory as eclectic as her Puerto Rican heritage. She got her start as a drummer in a Man or Astroman cover band and then switched gears about as radically as a drummer can, propelling darkly cinematic Brooklyn rockers Bee & Flower for a few years. Since then she’s also played drums with both a reconfigured version of Os Mutantes as well as in Mexican-American janglerockers Pistolera while also leading her own increasingly jangly, tuneful band, Cordero, in which she plays guitar. Her new album Recordar: Latin American Songs of Love and Protest puts a new electrified spin on songs from across the Americas from the 30s through the revolutionary nueva cancion movement of the 60s. She and her sensational band – including but not limited to Springsteen keyboardist Charles Giordano, trumpeters Kelly Pratt and Omar Akil Little, Vieux Farke Toure percussionist Tim Keiper and Modest Mouse cellist Brent Arnold –  play the album release show on May 1 at 9:30 PM at Joe’s Pub. Cover is $15.

Cordero is as good a choice as anyone to tackle such a daunting if potentially exhilarating project, considering that she was mentored in college by Juan Allende, the nephew of murdered, populist Chilean President Salvador Allende. She opens the album with a gently brooding accordion-and-horn-fueled arrangement of Victor Jara’s pensive 1966 anthem Deja la Vida Volar, delivering its bittersweet carpe diem message with a calm-before-the-storm clarity. She reinvents Argentinian crooner Piero’s 1969 hit Tengo la Piel Cansada as a darkly lingering tango sicodelico, much in the same vein as Las Rubias Del Norte.

Cordero discovered Bobby Collazo’s 1948 Cuban bolero La Ultima Noche via cheeseball songbird Eydie Gorme’s version; this one gets a careful, dreamy but uneasy reading with echoey electric keys and resonant brass. Cordero’s lilting take of the Gilberto Gil/Caetano Veloso hit Panis et Circenses (Bread and Circuses) looks less to the Os Mutantes version than the 60s American paisley pop that influenced it. Then she picks up the pace with a brisk take of the popular, homesick 30s Puerto Rican plena standard, Choferito.

Macorina, a gorgeously jangly lesbian love song from 1968 Mexico recorded by Chavela Vargas, gets a lushly tender interpretation that does justice to the bravery of the original. Cuarteto Mayari’s 1942 Puerto Rican hit El Flamboyan is recast as a bouncily percussion-driven shout-out to Cordero’s great-great-great grandfather, a freedom fighter for Puerto Rico against the Spanish occupation. Aunque Me Cueste la Vida, a 1954 hit in the Dominican Republic for Alberto Beltran (Piero’s dad) has a gravity that more than hints at a possible subtext (music there was ruthlessly censored under the Trujillo dictatorship).

Cordero recasts Violeta Parra’s 1967 Chilean lament Volver la Los 17 as moody, echoey trip-hop inflected art-rock. An aptly dusky, skeletal version of Argentinian folksinger Atahualpa Yupanqui’s Che Guevara homage El Primer Verso (Nada Más) hauntingly suggests that sometimes you have to die in order to be reborn: “If you don’t believe that, ask Che Guevara,” is the punchline. The album ends up with a resolutely marching take of Ali Primera’s 1978 Venezuelan revolutionary anthem Una Cancion Mansa Par Mi Pueblo Bravo.

The implication of the album as a whole (the title means “remember”) is that all of this could happen here, whether that be a coup d’etat, a revolution or music celebrating it: perish the thought that we would forget this lest we repeat the same ugly cycle. And you don’t have to speak Spanish to appreciate the songs’ alternately delicate and rousingly plaintive music (Cordero’s meticulously articulate vocals are enormously helpful for those of us who didn’t grow up speaking Spanish).

So where can you hear this gem? Right now, live; it hasn’t made it to Spotify or Bandcamp yet.

 

A Gateway Drug to the Surreal World of Chicha Music

Most people north of Peru still have no idea who Los Destellos are. Credit Chicha Libre, New York’s funnest live band and America’s finest chicha group, for opening the floodgates for a generation worth of trippy, echoey, clangy Peruvian psychedelic rock by bands who from the late 60s through the early 80s played a surreal blend of surf music and rhythms from across Latin America. With their two Roots of Chicha compilations, Chicha Libre’s label Barbes Records were the first to release anything by Los Destellos outside of their native Peru. Los Destellos were the first to use the term chicha (a corn beverage that’s essentially the Peruvian equivalent of malt liquor; its slang meaning is “ghetto”) to describe their music. In that genre, they are what the Ventures are to American surf music, generally acknowledged as its finest and most prolific practitioners.

On the brand-new Rough Guide to Latin Psychedelia compilation, they appear once on the first disc and get an entire bonus disc devoted to them. While what’s here may not be definitive – for example, there’s only one track, the woozy fuzztone bossa groove Onsta La Yerbita, from their stunningly ornate 1971 classic Constelacion album – it’s still off the hook. El Boogaloo Del Perro morphs unexpectedly from a latin soul vamp into balmy Hugh Masekela territory and just as unexpectedly back again. Volando Con Los Destellos reinvents Oye Como Va as a blazing fuzztone jam, a showcase for lead guitarist Enrique Delgado to show off the chops that made him an icon in his native country. They take Flash & the Dynamics’ broodingly shuffling Guajira Sicodelica (which also appears on the compilation) and remake it as Byrdsy twelve-string rock, Delgado having fun with his echo pedal and a handful of stolen Ventures licks. Recycling that same Byrds hook for all it’s worth, Boogaloo De Los Destellos proves for all time how much the California band’s sound would have been enhanced by timbales. Among the rest of the thirteen Destellos tracks here, Noche de Garua has a Lullaby of the Leaves feel; La Cumbia Del Sol works a lo-fi take on early Santana; Soy Un Campesino rocks out a Peruvian folk tune; while the rest have a spiky, wickedly catchy, reverb-toned drive and intensity. Considering how tinny so much of chicha music sounds, the remastered sound quality is tremendously good. The rest of the compilation concentrates on soul grooves fused with many different south-of-the-border sounds, from the obvious (Joe Cuba) to the deliciously unexpected (Los Pakines’ stoner anthem Tomalo O Dejalo).

Chicha Libre are also represented, by an unexpected choice, keyboardist Josh Camp’s Number 17, a tribute to Fermat primes. The whole thing is streaming at World Music Network, a place you can get just as lost as at youtube except that there are no annoying commercials. Let the main page for the Rough Guides send you down the rabbit hole – if esoterica is your thing, you can check in any time you like and basically never leave. Salsa Dura NYC? Check. Music of the Sahara? Doublecheck. Desert blues, Russian gypsy music, the list goes on and on.

Sandra Lilia Velasquez A.K.A. SLV Flips the Script

Mexican-American songwriter Sandra Lilia Velasquez has released two albums of edgy, jangly guitar rock with her band Pistolera, most recently the 2011 song cycle El Desierto y La Ciudad, which explores the sometimes harrowing ups and downs of the immigrant experience in New York. Considering how eclectic her writing has been up to this point, infusing rock with elements of Mexican folk and ranchera, reggae and soul music, it’s no surprise that she would pull a surprise move and take a plunge into moody, hypnotic groove-pop. There’s a serendipitous backstory: Velasquez had wanted to work with Meshell Ndegeocello for some time and finally got her opportunity. The new ep, titled Dig Deeper and released under the band name SLV, is the result of Velasquez presenting Ndegeocello with nineteen songs, leaving the bassist/producer to choose her favorites.

Much as these songs are more polished, with more of an overt pop vibe than Velasquez’ previous work, they’re not particularly slick or heavily produced. The arrangements are artful and even minimalist in places, with layers of keyboards and percussion constantly shifting through the mix to create the effect that there’s more going on here than just vocals, guitar, keys, bass and drums.

“These days I want to stay inside and pretend to say I’m somewhere, but it will get me nowhere,” Velasquez broods on the first song, Enough, minor-key guitar ringing out over blippy synth in the background. As the song moves along, the bass moves toward the front of the mix, reggae-style, one of many production touches that don’t jump out but make just enough of an impact to change the song. It could be early 90s Everything But the Girl, but with more bite, trading that band’s English folk influence for a distant Mexican one. The second track, Sueño, is more upbeat, with contrasting light/dark keys, a little funk in the bassline and a neat trick ending.

The best song here is History: it’s also the darkest and most relevant one. “Like to know who wrote the book, because I like to check my sources,” Velasquez insists nonchalantly, over a catchy, Neil Young-tinged four-chord guitar progression. “Those of us who don’t have a voice, we’re stuck with taking your word for it.” Who was it who said that history is a lie agreed upon? The ep winds up on an optimistic note with Painted Pictures, moving from a moody, syncopated sway to dreamy, echoey ambience: Velasquez’ pensive, poignant, nuanced voice has always been a strength, so it’s a nice change to see her front and center for once without having to compete with the racket behind her, enticing as that racket has been. SLV plays the album release show for this one on Feb 4 at 9:30 PM at Joe’s Pub; $15 tix are still available as of today.

Good Imaginative Bands on a Cold Night in Gowanus

For once, a seasonably cold Friday night didn’t keep the Brooklyn massive indoors. Down the block from the trash truck depot at the edge of where Gowanus meets Sunset Park, a boisterously responsive crowd gathered at the unexpectedly lavish, relatively new venue SRB to see two of New York’s most original bands.

Karikatura were first on the bill, playing a slinky mix of latin rock and gypsy rock with some reggae and ska thrown in as well. Their frontman played beats on a conga head on several songs and sang nonchalantly smart, socially conscious lyrics over a fiery horn section (alto or tenor sax plus trombone), plus a guitarist playing biting, often flamenco-tinged lines on a nylon-stringed acoustic-electric over the rhythm section’s eclectic grooves. The most infectious of all the songs was Bailarina, which nicked the riff from the famous Algerian freedom fighter anthem Ya Rayyeh and turned it into an unexpectedly angst-fueled reflection by a guy who’s probably more infatuated with a dancing girl than he should be. It’s too loud to talk over the music, all my friends are drunk and I don’t like the idea of other guys hitting on you, the poor dude laments.

Celi, from the band’s most recent ep, Departures, was more hipswinging and seductive. Shortly after that they went into the edgy reggae liberation anthem Una Idea, a richly bass-heavy track from that release, then brought that idea back toward the end of the set with a soaring version of Some Kind Of (Free), a standout tune from their Muzon ep from a couple of years ago. They finally cut loose and jammed on their last number, with a hard-hitting bass break and then a blazing conversation between tenor sax and trombone. Karikatura are a popular touring act  in Europe and south of the border: it was good to see them on their home turf.

House of Waters are one of the most original bands on the planet. Their name is apt: frontman Max ZT, a national champion on the hammered dulcimer, played intricate, incisively rippling melodies throughout their set alongside cajon player Luke Notary and eight-string bassist Moto Fukushima. On the first song, Fukushima played through an octave pedal for a wry, techy tone that contrasted with the rustic feel of the dulcimer. Their music was as danceable as it was psychedelic: on the occasions when the dulcimer passsed off a rhythmic riff to the cajon, it was sometimes impossible to tell who was playing what. On a couple of tunes, Fukushima hit his pedal for a resonant, djeridoo-like drone; he also meandered through a Jerry Garcia-like solo on the high frets and then a wry disco bassline on one of the last songs. On another, Notary switched to ngoni lute as the drummer from Seth Kessel & the Two Cent Band joined them and played a slinky cumbia groove on guacharaca.

Max ZT is a force of nature and a lot of fun to watch, his hands a blur as he fired off supersonically shuffling licks that sounded almost like a mandolin in places. Bits and pieces of gypsy, Appalachian and soukous melodies rang out and pinged through the mix. The next-to-last song – a track from the band’s Revolution album – was intoxicatingly good, shifting suddenly out of  a slow, moody gypsy-flavored vamp when the band took it doublespeed.

Kessel and his Two Cent Band were scheduled to play their goodnaturedly high-energy oldtimey swing and gypsy jazz at some later point in the evening, but by then it was midnight in Gowanus and time to find out if the trains were still running (they were). Catch you next time, guys – they’re at Union Hall in Park Slope on Feb 2 and then at Radegast Hall in Williamsburg on Feb 6.

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