Elegant, Unpredictably Fun Oldtime Swing Sounds at Barbes This Thursday

by delarue

As far back as the late 90s, Daria Grace had established herself as one of the most distinctively melodic and consistently interesting bass players in the New York rock and Americana scenes. From her work with art-rockers Melomane to country hellraisers the Jack Grace Band, she would always find an opening on the low end that would give her a chance to be just as adrenalizing as all the soloing and mayhem overhead.

But Grace also plays other four-stringed instruments – and 88-keyed instruments, as she revealed with a rare appearance on organ at a recent Long Island City show with Pat Irwin‘s cinematic band. Yet these days she’s better known as a singer than for her instrumental prowess.

Since the late zeros, she’s fronted the playful oldtimey swing band, the Pre-War Ponies, where she plays baritone ukulele and covers all kinds of charming, often very obscure repretoire from the 20s to the 40s. For awhile she was running her axe through a bunch of pedals for many unexpected textures, but lately she and the band have taken a more trad approach to the songs. The Pre-War Ponies have had an ongoing monthly residency at Barbes for several years; their next gig is Nov 8 at 8 PM followed at 10 by furry-suited, xylophone-driven oldtimey swing busker legends the Xylopholks.

Grace has been chronicled on this page on several occasions. The last couple of times this blog was in the house for her Barbes residency was back in February when she opened for the electrifying Bollywood-influenced Bombay Rickey, and then this past June. Typically, the two consistent members of the cast are Grace and her longtime trombomist (and frequent uke sparring partner), J. Walter Hawkes. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch them with the great Willie Martinez – the original drummer in Big Lazy – behind the kit. One of the band’s favorite songs is an old mambo, Amapola – ostensibly dedicated to an opium poppy, hmmmm – and Martinez always gets a juicy rumble going with that one

Otherwise, the material at those two shows ranged from the obscure – the bubbliest suicide song ever written, and the irresistible Moon Over Brooklyn, which other than a couple of lines could be Moon Over Marin, or Moon Over Staten Island – to energetic takes of standards like Take All of Me. Grace’s plush, subtle voice always finds quieter openings to add nuance, and Hawkes will use any opportunity to squall and spiral and bring down the house.