New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: October, 2012

CMJ 2012: Make Music NY for Kids with Badges

When the Figgs played their first show in 1987, CMJ was a marketing idea whose time had come. By then, just about every college was sending at least a couple of representatives of the campus radio station to the annual festival. In reality, since it was a pretty much all-expenses-paid New York vacation, most of the kids who went to CMJ didn’t go to more than a show or two. In those days, New York had plenty of cheap bars where underage drinking was openly encouraged, and if you knew where to look, there were drugs as good as anything available on campus for half the price. Other than the overabundance of cheap drugs making up somewhat for the disappearance of dives catering to an under-21 crowd, it’s hard to imagine that things have changed much for CMJ attendees since then..

At that point in history, bands were ostensibly auditioning for airplay. Then the urban myth that record labels were signing bands out of CMJ persisted for a few years. By the late 90s, crowds were often still good enough to make a CMJ show worth the hassle since it could be an opportunity to play to some fresh faces. But as the festival ran out of venues, spilling over into rice-and-beans joints and coffeeshops and anywhere a primitive PA could be set up, overkill set in. With the web and Youtube eliminating the need for any kind of live audition, a CMJ gig inevitably became no more of a big deal than any other random show – which it probably never had been, anyway.

But as much as the crowds, and the number of bands gets smaller and smaller every year, CMJ still comes around. And somebody had asked the Figgs to play a CMJ gig Saturday night at Rock Shop. It’s hard to imagine any other show on the slate this year being as wickedly fun as this one was, despite its brevity. “25 years, 25 minutes,” drummer Pete Hayes said sardonically, seconds after the set had ended without an encore – gotta run ’em up and run ’em off, after all, this is CMJ. But the sold-out crowd went wild, at least as wild as guys who probably saw the band at CMJ 1992 can get for an hour after leaving the wives and kids at home.

But the band is absolutely undiminished: after 25 years, their passion and energy puts most acts half their age to shame. It’s no wonder that they’re Graham Parker’s first choice as a backing band. This show had special significance for being a reunion of sorts with original lead guitarist Guy Lyons, who stepped back in as if he’d never left. Leaving barely a pause between songs, they blasted through one catchy tune after another. As powerpop bands go, do these guys have as solid a back catalog as the Raspberries or Big Star? No question. Is Hayes the most solid four-on-the-floor rock drummer anywhere in the world at this point? No question. Bassist Pete Donnelly added a darkly growling edge with burning chords, tree-snapping climbs to the top of the fretboard…or he’d deliver a laid-back soul groove, as on a wryly amusing version of Do Me Like You Said You Would, the first single from the band’s latest album The Day Gravity Stopped. And guitarist/singer Mike Gent got to indulge his Stones fixation as well as blast through both Kinks and Beatles-inspired riffage throughout the set, which was catchier than anything Chisel or any other of the Figgs early 90s contemporaries ever could have mustered.

Hayes drove the barely minute-long opening number with a grinning hardcore stomp; then they lauched into the considerably more tongue-in-cheek Favorite Shirt, a big crowd-pleaser from their 1994 Lo-Fi at Society High album. Lyons sang the biting, sardonic Bad Luck Sammie and the even more snarling Rejects. Did Wilco rip off the Figgs for Shot in the Arm? Hearing this show, you could make a strong case for it. As the show wound up, they messed with an insistent reggae pulse, then referenced the Ramones with Wait on Your Shoulders and finished with the Kinks/Who stomp of Something’s Wrong. The only thing wrong with this picture was that a band this good deserved a biggger venue – and if this had been Manhattan rather than the Gowanus, they would have packed it.

A couple of other acts who made CMJ appearances this year deserve a mention. Fiery, charismatic, literate rockers Hannah vs. the Many played an all-too-brief set here on Friday night: it was good to get to hear frontwoman/guitarist Hannah Fairchild’s blistering wail over the roar of the guitars and the macabre cascades of the keyboards (the band still seems to be without a bass player). It’s hard to think of any other band who has smarter, more incisive lyrics than they do.

And for what it’s worth, the single most impressive song of the entire festival – at least from this perspective,  it’s still impossible to catch each and every act – came from an unexpected source, jangly 80s-influenced Bushwick guitar pop band the Denzels. The version of the ominously swaying minor-key garage-rock anthem Waterfront up at their Bandcamp site doesn’t do justice to the majestic power they gave it onstage at the Knitting Factory on Saturday. Hearing a song that intense and smartly orchestrated makes you wonder, is there more where that came from? Throughout the rest of their show, some of which was more Britpop-inflected, some of which sounded like the Alabama Shakes without the girl singer, there wasn’t – but it was a short set. Which perfectly capsulizes CMJ’s appeal as well as the severity of its limitations.

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LoCura Bring a Smart Spanish Tinge to Reggae and Ska

Isn’t it funny how throughout much of the Spanish-speaking world, ska is the default fallback influence for just about evey kind of fun party music? Sure, cumbia and reggaeton are everywhere, but if you listen to metal cumbia, or skaragga, no matter how much metal, or hip-hop, or other stuff is going on in the songs, the band is still skanking! One good recent example is seven-piece Bay Area band LoCura’s latest album Semilla Caminante, which came out this past spring – it blends jaunty reggae and ska with dramatic, artsy flamenco-rock.

Frontwoman Katalina Miletich grew up bilingual in Spain, so it’s no surprise that she brings a strong flamenco influence to the music. As is typical of Spanish rock, the production on the album is digitally crisp and clean; it’s not as crazy as you would expect from a band with their name. Miletich sings with a somewhat stagy delivery, in both Spanish and English, often both in the same song. The album’s opening track, Prendela builds slowly up from a trip-hop tinged vamp, a rousing directive to get a move on. Guerrilleras, a celebration of latinas transforming the world, begins as a bouncy minor-key reggae song, then hits a lowrider groove lit up by a soulful horn chart and gets grittier from there.

Con El Viento, a bristling acoustic flamenco-rock tune, is a call to literally let some fresh air in. Squatters’ Song, another slinky reggae tune, sends a shout out to occupiers and Occupiers around the world: “Let’s repopulate all the empty boxes, one shouldn’t have to sleep on the sidewalk,” right?

Nuestros Caminos builds its way up to ska and then down to a brief dub-flavored interlude before starting all over again, while Desde Las Entranas makes towering art-rock out of a restless, angst-fueled traditional flamenco tune. The band follows that with the sarcastically chirpy ska song To’ Pa’ Mi’, a caustic sendup of narcissism and the culture it creates. Que Falta works a determined, slightly carnivalesque funk-reggae groove with an energetic break for timbales, while Te Sigo moves in the opposite direction into deep dub. The album ends with an epically crescendoing flamenco-rock anthem.

Miletich’s politics are unimpeachable – she wants change, now – although her English lyrics can be a work in progress. Happily, that’s not an issue when it comes to Spanish. And as solid as this band is – bassist Izzy and drummer Carrie Jahde are a powerful and nimble rhythm section, and trumpeter Danny Cao’s soaring lines never fail to elevate the songs, every time – there are places where the album could use more bite. A couple of flamenco-lite trip-hop interludes come thisclose to being tuneouts until the reggae or ska kicks in and makes you forget about them. But bands like this usually kick out the jams onstage: LoCura’s next show has them opening for Groundation at 7:30 PM on Halloween at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz.

Another Edgy, Sardonic Vallenato Party Album from Very Be Careful

Very Be Careful are notorious as a wild party band: they’re sort of the Pogues of Colombian music. The Freudian cover shot on their new album Remember Me from the Party shows a broken hydrant spraying the street. Very Be Careful play oldschool Colombian vallenato, not the watered-down, studio-slick stuff you might see on Telemundo. With just accordion, vocals, bass and percussion, these guys look back to the 50s and 60s, when this music was the soundtrack to a seedy underworld of criminals and roadhouses. Like roots reggae or Mississippi hill country blues, it’s dance music, but it also has a hypnotic, trance-inducing pulse. On this album, Ricardo Guzman’s accordion swirls and vamps tersely, with sometimes bracingly off-center tonalities, a nod to the indigenous Colombian folk music that vallenato sprang from. His brother Arturo’s reissue Danelectro bass has its intonation just a hair off here, making his fat, boomy notes a little sharp: it’s the opposite of what Family Man Barrett used to do in Bob Marley’s band, and it raises the energy since Guzman pushes the beat. Which is no surprise: as psychedelic as this music can be, it’s not exactly mellow. Underneath, the junkyard clatter of the caja vallenata, cowbell and guacharaca adds a hypnotically roughhewn vibe.

The opening track is El Revuelto (Scrambled Eggs), the accordion working a weird minor-key mode that brings the menace up a notch. It’s a cautionary tale about “not mixing it up too much.” The murderous El Mosquito – about the whining pest that drives you crazy at night and must be killed – switches back and forth between waltz time. Cinco Centavos is a cumbia, its marching minor-key tune contrasting with the wry lyrics.

Los Dulces (Sweets) has a raucous, percussive bounce that reminds of the crazier side of Mexican banda music, while the brisk, insistent El Millonario has a punk-infused snarl. The pulsing waltz El Rapidol is available as a free download; the album ends with the tongue-in-cheek El Encuentro, with its busy, bubbly bassline.

Along with the originals, the album has five covers. The oldest is Luis Enrique Martinez’ Cumbia del Valledupar. The band takes the rustic tribute to the Colombian city, gives it a haphazard punk edge and a long accordion vamp out – it’s abouit twice as long as the original. La Democracia is slower, more deliberate and more vividly sarcastic than Juancho Polo Valencia’s 1960s hit.Very Be Careful’s version of Alfredo Gutierrez’ El Envenanao (The Drunk) begins less boisterously – it’s an amusingly over-the-top tale of a hopeless character who’s letting his family fall apart – then pulls it up closer to punk. There’s also a bouncy take of Samuel Martinez’ wryly self-referential La Loma, and a steady, nonchalant cover of Alejo Duran’s Nacira. Very Be Careful have New York roots and play here frequently, typically splitting their time between SOB’s and Barbes, with the ever-present possibility of a last-minute rooftop party somewhere; watch this space.

Israeli Rock Star Rita: Huge in Iran

Iran-born chanteuse Rita is the biggest thing happening in Israel right now. She’s also the biggest thing happening in Iran right now, no surprise since she sings the blistering new versions of the classic Iranian rock and pop songs on her latest album My Joys in her native Farsi. These songs are also against the law there, no doubt adding a samizdat appeal. She and her first-class band deserve to be much better globally than they are right now: they’ll be on US tour this November (sadly, the New York concert has been cancelled). Fans of gypsy and Middle Eastern music will love them.

The album’s production, by Israeli rockers Knesiyat Hasekhel, gives the songs a towering, majestic art-rock intensity, lushly arranged with a full rock band and orchestra and frequent spine-tingling solos from reeds, fiddle and tar lute. Rita’s voice is bright and direct, sometimes quiet and poignant, sometimes evoking far darker emotions. The album’s opening track is a biting Rachid Taha-esque Middle Eastern dance-rock tune, followed by the big syncopated minor-key art-rock anthem Gole Sangam, driven by biting, bluesmetal-tinged guitar and a tinkly piano motif.

A surf guitar phrase sputters down the scale over a bubbly yet ominous Balkan horn arrangement to kick off her current mega-hit, Shah Doomad: it wouldn’t be out of place in either the Gogol Bordello or Yemen Blues catalog. Dor in Donya, a stomping, slow, broodingly anthemic rock song, builds to a hypnotic dancefloor pulse. Bracing quartertone accordion and microtonal fiddle fuel the ridulously catchy Gole Maryam, the band running a couple of verses before the vocals kick in: it’s the best song on the album. They follow that with a sad ballad that grows lush on the chorus and then maintains the majestic ambience.

The loudest track is Kabutare Sefid, a hypnotically insistent, suspensefully galloping, apprehensive Middle Eastern rocker. Osta Karim builds from a biting, tense four-chord progression to a bitter, minor-key chorus with vocals to match the music,  followed by another galloping anthem, Beegharar. The album ends with a quiet, Beatlesque chamber pop ballad, a brief voice-and-drum chant and then a momentary reprise of the eerie Balkan bubbliness of Shah Doomad.

Taken as a whole, the album testifies to the rich cross-pollination that was happening in Iran, albeit somewhat under the radar, before the Khomeini counter-revolution and the reign of terror that continues to this day. How do you hear this music? Rita has a youtube channel; Hebrew speakers can also check out her main site. Rita also has a disarmingly cute solution to tensions between the land of her birth and where she lives now: “Don’t send bombs. Send me!” No wonder Ahmedinejad and the mullahs he serves are so terrified of her, and her songs.

Fun, Edgy Guitar Tunes from Isra-Alien

Israeli duo Isra-Alien – Oren Neiman on nylon-string guitar and Gilad Ben Zvi on steel string guitar – have a bristling, impressively eclectic new album coming out titled Somewhere Is Here. It’s just two guitars, no bass or drums, bringing a tight, sometimes flamenco-flavored, sometimes Middle Eastern-tinged bite to a generally upbeat mix of eclectic original songs without words.

The opening track, Schunah (meaning Hood, in the slang sense of the word) kicks off with a syncopated vamp and grows to a comfortably animated flamenco-spiked theme. Reah Tapuah (The Smell of an Apple), meant to evoke 1950s Israel, echoes the Grateful Dead as much as it does levantine folk. Eishes Chayil (Woman of Valor) is a stormy, gypsy-flavored new Neiman arrangement of an old Joseph Rumshinsky Yiddish theatre piece, followed by a mellow, stately, baroque-tinged love ballad by Ben Zvi

Tavas Hazahar (The Golden Peacock), an artsy rock song by Israeli composer Shem-Tov Levi, gets a bouncy, gypsyish arrangement. Neiman’s rather epic, Piazzolla-inspired Pnei Hayam (The Face of the Sea) develops from tersely contemplative, to a jazzy evocation of wave motion, to a series of warmly insistent dance themes. The album winds up on a similar note with a blistering gypsy jazz-infused medley of a hora, a brogez (the mother-in-law dance where both sides are expected to make peace) and a rousing freilach.

Fans of acoustic guitar music as accessible as the Gipsy Kings, as classic as Django Reinhardt and as cutting-edge as Stephane Wrembel will all find juicy nuggets here. Isra-Alien play the cd release show for this one at Drom on Nov 10 at 7 PM. There are plenty of $10 advance tix left.

Lush Eclectic Cosmopolitan Gypsy Sounds from Quadro Nuevo

Quadro Nuevo are huge in Europe. They have a new album out, Grand Voyage, recorded between stops around the world on what seems to be an endless tour. What they play defies categorization. Is it gypsy jazz? Much of it, yes. Is it nuevo tango? Some of it. Is it Middle Eastern music? Occasionally.The eclectic band’s central instrument is Andreas Hinterseher’s accordion (and sometimes bandoneon), which lends a gypsy or tango flavor to the rest of the stuff – and there is a lot of it, eighteen tracks’ worth. The rest of the band are a diverse cast; bandleader Mulo Francel switches between saxes and clarinet, and occasionally contributes bouzouki or guitar. Concert harpist Evelyn Huber artfully employs voicings from other instruments; one moment she can sound like a cimbalom or an oud, a second later she’s playing a guitar line. Bassist D.D. Lowka also plays percussion, xylophone and cimbalom as well. The album has a sad historical significance, as it includes the last recordings of guitarist Robert Wolf, who was paralyzed in an accident in 2008.

The opening tune might technically be a bolero, but at heart it’s a ridiculously catchy ska song – just when Lowka’s cimbalom is about to raise the lushness factor to completely hypnotic, the harp signals a return of the melody and then they’re off skanking again. The second track, a samba swing tune, is a letdown – it sounds like something out of the Pink Martini catalog. But then they get back on the good foot with a charming boudoir jazz version of the 1930s Mexican pop standard Cien Anos; it’s like a Las Rubias Del Norte instrumental.

Dark, majestic and neoromantic with central Asian tinges, Krim was recorded in a onetime sultan’s palace in the Ukraine. Samba Parapente, recorded in Corsica, takes on a spiky gypsy jazz edge, followed by Hinterseher’s gypsy jazz lullaby Aus der Stille der Nacht. They reinvent Nature Boy as a jaunty tango driven by guest William Galison’s harmonica, and a suspensefully bubbly guitar solo from Wolf before going off into free jazz territory for a bit.

Die Abenteurer evokes Doris Fisher’s bittersweet torch jazz classic Whispering Grass, contrasting with Lethe, a nebulous, misterioso waltz by Wolf. The pensive Antakya maintains a misty unease, shifting from echoes of Anatolian folk to flurrying gypsy jazz.

They follow that with a couple of tangos, one upbeat and full of delicious harp, accordion and sax solos and the other a balmy nocturne recorded late at night in Kuala Lumpur. Mosaique Tunisienne, a triptych, follows a rising arc from morning to night on the wings of Huber’s eclectic harp interludes set against pensive accordion and insistent, rat-a-tat goblet drumming. The most hardcore gypsy number here is Goaz Boq Musik, inspired by jamming with Transylvanian gypsies. The album ends with a warmly enveloping nocturne and then a full orchestral reprise of the ska song that opened the album. Recorded live in concert in 2010 with the NDR Radio Symphony Orchestra, it’s a radical piece of music, and everybody has a blast with it: in its towering, epic way, it’s ska-punk like you’ve never imagined. Count this as one of the most beguiling and consistently interesting albums of 2012, out now from Quebecois label Justin Time.

Haunting, Cinematically Sweeping Armenian Sounds from MusAner

MusAner’s new cd Once Upon a Time is one of the most picturesque, intensely vivid albums of the year. It gets better as it goes along and ends on a lively note with what may be an escape anthem, Two Way Ticket Across the Black Sea, a jaunty seafaring theme bookended by a dark Balkan dance. The Boston-based group – whose name translates from Armenian as “muses” – take dark, often haunting, centuries-old Armenian melodies and flesh them out into a uniquely cinematic style, equal parts jazz and film music. Their songs always seem to end up in a different place from where they began. The group bill themselves as “folk fusion,” which is actually a misnomer since there’s absolutely nothing fusiony about their sound: the instruments are acoustic, the playing soulful and swinging. The group has a rotating cast, performing as both a lavish ten-piece orchestra as well as a smaller ensemble. Cyprus-born, Beirut-raised pianist Ara Sarkissian brings a tersely moody, meticulous edge to the music, backed by core members Todd Brunel on clarinet, Ken Field on saxes and Artur Yeghiazaryan and Martin Haroutunian on traditional Armenian wind instruments. They’re playing the cd release show at Drom on Oct 26 at 9:20 PM; advance tickets are available for $12. If gorgeously haunting melodies are your thing, this is for you.

The album’s opening track, A Drive Through the Mountains balances warmth and apprehension, a gypsy jazz shuffle given cinematic sweep with rippling neoromantic piano and Haroutunian’s rivetingly shivery microtonal playing on the zouma, a traditional reed instrument that sounds a bit like a cross between a clarinet and an oboe. They follow that with All in a Day, which juxtaposes a silly Alpine-tinged flute tune with a tensely dramatic piano-driven theme. Circle Dance at Midnight takes an edgy Balkan vamp and adds all kinds of cool variations, with echoes of ragtime, dixieland and then that silly Alpine tune when least expected.

The next track is Goodnight Datevik, an elegant piano-and-accordion nocturne; after that, they put a Middle Eastern spin on a bustling, intricately arranged Amina Figarova-style traveler’s tale aptly titled Jetsetter. But as entertaining as all this is, it can’t compare with the next four tracks. The singing quality of Haroutunian’s sometimes mournful, sometimes slithery zouma will give you chills; likewise, Sarkissian’s piano takes on a potently plaintive tone, mingling with the reeds, accordion, bass and drums.

The first of these tracks, Memory Box and then the title cut, make up a diptych of sorts, beginning wistfully but quickly growing darker: it’s clear that not all these memories are pleasant ones. But some are, and that’s how it ends. Likewise, the title track contrasts artfully echoey piano with wounded zouna lines, romps through a funky interlude but ends with with an expansively haunting, elegaic theme. Overnight Train takes a slow one-chord jam and makes a sad Caucasian waltz out of it, while Strewn By the Wind works its way through a long thicket of intertwining reeds into a pensive theme that morphs into a sad waltz and then ends with a poignant piano interlude that wouldn’t be out of place in the Marcel Khalife songbook. In terms of raw, wrenching beauty, this is hard to beat.

Bob Belden’s Brilliant Portrayal of New York in the Here and Now

Transparent Heart, the new suite by saxophonist Bob Belden’s Animation project, is one of the most important and gripping albums in any style of music released this year, especially as far as New York is concerned. “This record is not a jazz record. In essence, the music is a reflection of the lingering tension since 9/11. It’s an honest look at Manhattan through music,” says Belden. And it’s a crushingly honest one at that. Belden rightly identifies 9/11 as the single central factor in the decline of New York dating from 2001. And he speaks from experience: he was about five blocks away from the World Trade Center when the planes hit. He dedicates the album to those murdered in the attack and to their survivors.

Belden is equally outraged by the Bush regime’s reign of terror that followed: “The intense buildup of the New York Police Department to the point of having one of the largest standing armies in the world, placing citizens under surveillance on the streest and in the subways – stop-and-frisk developed from this quasi-military policing initiative,” he reminds us. Nor is he happy with the ongoing displacement of the small businesses that have given New York so much of its individuality over the centuries, replaced by the generic blandness of fast food restaurants and national chain stores. He may not have made it to New York until 1979, but Belden is a New Yorker to the core.

The album defies categorization. Lush and picturesque in the style of late 70s film music, with jazz flourishes from Belden’s saxes and Pete Clagett’s trumpet, richly orchestrated with Roberto Verastegui’s electronic keyboards over the relentless pulse of electric bassist Jacob Smith and drummer Matt Young, it’s a film for the ears. It opens with Terra Incognito (a reference to late 70s/early 80s Central Park above 96th Street). Its uneasy cinematics shift over a determined trip-hop rhythm with Rhodes piano, tersely sailing sax and trumpet lines. Urbanoia – an examination of the pervasive sense of danger that despite gentrification has never abated in the city’s poorer neighborhoods – opens with desolate washes and electronic bleeps and a thicket of samples from tv a la Roger Waters and The Wall. As it builds over a tensely bubbling background, alienation-fueled trumpet and then Belden’s own agitated crescendo combine vividly to recall Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver soundtrack..

Clagett’s trumpet also carries the hauntingly brief tone poem Cry in the Wind, inspired by the time Belden came to the rescue of a late-night stabbing victim. They follow that with the sweeping, majestic title track, driven by distantly lurid, epic washes of string synthesizer, plaintive horn lines and Young’s relentless yet terse drum volleys. If there’s any star of this album, it’s Young, with his sledgehammer attack on the kick drum: even when the music reaches a lull, he never lets the intensity diminish, and fuels the many crescendos here with a mighty force that somehow manages to be more matter-of-fact than dramatic.

Seven Towers begins with a tense, rubato series of bass pulses, revisits the brooding opening theme as Young subtly foreshadows what’s looming beyond the horizon: we all know what’s going to happen. Yet the band approaches it with a frantic precision that perfectly captures the events of that morning in downtown New York: after all, the towers had been bombed before, and had caught fire, and they didn’t collapse either time. Belden’s microtonal, desolate flute and then Verastegui’s surreal, darkly starry electric piano capture the horror and numbed shock afterward, Young’s drums finally veering toward pandemonium.

The militaristic response afterward is portayed via a return of the main theme, plaintive against a practically satirical, funkily fusionesque beat. Vanishment – inspired by how so many mom-and-pop stores downtown were shuttered for good in the wake of 9/11 – works variations on the theme with a steady yet practically weeping electric piano solo over a remoreseless drum vamp. The final track, Occupy!, at first maintains a disconsolate tone, then offers guarded hope via Belden’s spirited soprano sax, yet ultimately returns to an angry agitation and ends unresolved, perhaps a reminder that eternal vigilance is a price we can’t avoid paying. Many of the songs are streaming at Soundcloud (including Planetarium, a bonus track); the album is out now on the Rare Noise label.

Sassparilla: Fewer Bubbles, More Bite

Portland, Oregon band Sassparilla’s previous album The Darnedest Thing, from late last year, mined familiar Tom Waits down-and-out territory but with a surprisingly potent guitar-fueled edge. Their latest one, Magpie, is different to the point that it practically sounds like it was made by an entirely different band (hey, you guys didn’t just pull a fast one, did you?).. If some of the songs on this one had come out fifteen years ago on a major label, they would have been produced as tepid G-Love white funk or even trip-hop. This band happens to do it with terse vintage soul and blues arrangements. It’s a cool, original touch, managing to be retro and in the moment at the same time.

The opening track is Threadbare – no, actually, it’s not, it’s a Beatlesque bounce that laments getting dumped by a girl who broke “my heart of Chinese plastic.” ??? The second track, Star, has a hip-hop lyrical vibe juxtaposed against dark banjo, slide guitar and a growling electric guitar solo. The Mary Celeste mixes Penny Lane pop with a bit of glam and a surreal torrent of lyrics that have little to do with a famous shipwreck, while Two Black Hearts works a romping late 60s Little Milton blues groove with a more rocking edge.

Buick sounds like Waits done as trip-hop, with trumpet flourishes and some unexpectedly funny lyrics despite the gloom: “She loved how he fucked on that methamphetamine.” By contrast, You Took It All sets a warm, wistful soul tune atop a swaying country beat: it could be the Jayhawks circa 1997 with a tasty horn chart in place of all the vocal harmonies. They keep the country-soul vibe going with the Memphis-tinged, laid-back Broke Down Engine, which gets unexpectedly dark and loud: it’s the most memorable moment on the album. It ends with the creepy, scampering Britfolk-flavored All the Way In and then The Man Who Howled Wolf, the hardest-rocking thing here with its lingering early 70s stoner blues-rock riffage. If smart oldschool tunesmithing is your thing, Sassparilla will quench your thirst. Their next gig is Oct 19 at the Laurelthirst Public House in Portland at 6 PM.

Psychedelic Brass Band Cross-Pollination from the Dirty Bourbon River Show

With their “gypsy brass circus rock,” the Dirty Bourbon River Show are one of those party bands who transcend any attempt to pigeonhole them: all they want to do is play good music. They’ve had such success making albums and giving them away at shows that they keep running out – so they record new ones. Their latest, Volume Three is actually their fifth, something you might expect from a band that puts the party vibe front and center. But they’re excellent musicians, which you have to be in order to mix New Orleans jazz, reggae, latin, gypsy and soul music and not make people sick. Lyrically, a lot of these songs don’t make much sense; musically, they’re an awful lot of fun.

The opening track is a let’s-get-this-show started kind of New Orleans second-line number, with a fat pulse from the tuba and kick drum: “Now that you’re here, grab yourself a beer, as the saxophone makes love to your ears,” rasps frontman Noah Adams. They follow that with Wolfman, a gruff cajun number with a Halloweeny gypsy undercurrent and then Already Gone, a slinky, nocturnal, minor-key cha-cha tune. True Blue Blues sets funky Crescent City piano on top of fat low end and a tasty baritone sax solo from Matt Thomas.

They go back to a latin groove for Say That You Love Me, which seems to be a drinking song of some sort, with gypsy clarinet, piano, a surprisingly lush string arrangement and bubbly tenor sax. I Don’t Know builds from a slow oldschool soul vibe and takes on more of a bite as the guitar gets louder and adds a tinge of distortion. The most psychedelic song here is Hold ‘Em High, which morphs from stoner hippie blues to a tricky thicket of horn countermelodies. They get even more surreal with C’est le Vie Sierra, which kicks off with a Thelonious Monk riff and then wavers between a biting gypsy vamp and a woozy, off-kilter dirge. That one segues into a suspiciously smoky reggae/hip-hop tune that delivers a funny dis. The album ends with a brief vaudevillian kazoo tune. To recap: New Orleans; cajun; various latin flavors; blues; gypsy music; soul; stoner music; a little jazz; reggae and hip-hop, all of it good. Is there anything this band CAN’T play? The Dirty Bourbon River Show are currently on southern tour; they’ll be back in their hometown of New Orleans at the end of the month.