New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Elephant Wisdom

Once upon a time in Punjab, five elephant drivers were leading their caravan down a dusty road. The elephants were loaded down with spices and other goods. When they reached a pond by the side of the road, the drivers pulled off to stretch their legs, refill their canteens, smoke some weed and let the elephants have a drink.

Each driver dismounted and then attached a chain to the shackle on the rear leg of the elephant he’d been riding. The drivers then attached the end of the chains to saplings growing along the banks of the pond.

See, when young elephants are trained, each is first shackled to a big tree. In ancient times, elephant trainers discovered that the animals become so conditioned to being immobilized by a shackle and chain that it isn’t long before they can be shackled to even a small bush, and they will still remain there until the trainer unleashes them.

On this day, the first elephant in line was annoyed by a fly buzzing behind him. He tried flicking the fly away with his tail, but his tail couldn’t reach it. So the elephant tried swinging his trunk around to swat the fly. Standing on the short slope down to the pond, the elephant lost his balance. To avoid falling into the water, he reflexively shifted his back foot, which had been loosely chained to a sapling.

Noticing that his foot, still attached to the chain, had snapped the sapling in two, the elephant sauntered up onto the road. Joyously dragging the chain behind him, he galumphed up to the second elephant, swung his trunk and smacked him on the ass.

Startled, the second elephant jumped forward, also snapping the sapling that held him.

Meanwhile, the elephant drivers had busied themselves packing a bowl and passing it around. Since they were so high, they didn’t notice what the elephants were doing until the fifth elephant pulled away from the pond and joined the others as they moved down the road, still with the spices and other goods on their backs.

“Hey, you come back here,” the first driver yelled, but it was too late. An elephant can reach speeds of up to twenty-five miles an hour, whereas a human can only hit about twenty, and not for more than a few seconds at a time. The drivers watched, dumbstruck, as the animals lumbered into the distance.

When the elephants reached the next town, they looked for any of their fellow species who’d been shackled, and then swatted them on the ass. Then the whole group, all dragging their chains behind them, moved on to another town further down the road. And so it was that all the elephants of Punjab became free.

A Matter-of-Factly Harrowing Eco-Disaster Cautionary Tale by Sarah Kirkland Snider

Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Mass for the Endangered is not an appeal to a deity but to nature. Ultimately, it’s a cautionary tale, a plea for the survival of the environment rather than for the humans whose liturgies typically serve as text for such things. Backed by terse piano and a vivid chamber orchestra, Gabriel Crouch leads vocal ensemble Gallicantus in this intense, dynamic world premiere recording, streaming at Bandcamp.

Throughout the suite, Snider seamlessly interpolates the original latin with new text by first-class art-folk songwriter Nathaniel Bellows. The opening kyrie section, centered around variations on an eerie six-note riff, is a study in contrasts, somber ambience anchoring angst-fueled crescendos from the choir. Hypnotic yet acidic echo phrases rise to chilling heights: this is hardly an easy piece to sing, and the ensemble dig in mightily. 

The group negotiate the tricky counterpoint of the gloria over harp caught in limbo between icy belltone astringency and anthemic neoromanticism. A tritone menace appears as exchanges beetween the men and women of the choir rise and fall.

The alleluia is a mashup of Renaissance rhythmic grace and tensely pulsing minimalism. Snider’s gift for implied melody really comes to the forefront as the voices pick up with an uneasily dancing rhythm over steady harp, resonant winds and circling strings in the credo. A galloping low string figure stands out stunningly below the soaring, twinkling atmosphere above.

Snider combines the sanctus and benedictus sections with a minimalist bounce that brings to mind David Lang’s choral works. The voices reprise the suite’s initial angst, but also offer hope against hope, a bassoon swirling upward over the strings’ incisive, percussive phrases in the concluding agnus dei. Nothing like the apocalypse to inspire creativity, huh?

A Big Dose of Hilarious, Sharply Lyrical, Tuneful Black Dirt Country Rock From Joe Stamm

If you’re a musician trying to build an audience, you can’t do better than Americana rocker Joe Stamm, who has one of the most sophisticated and well thought-out marketing campaigns this blog has ever encountered. There’s a catch, though…his system won’t work for you unless you have the material to back it up.

What he wants you to do when you visit his webpage is to sign up for his “online album adventure,” with a lot of freebies. So maybe you do that…and half an hour later, it hits you that you’re still there, still listening. This guy is good!

He calls his music black dirt country rock. He can be outrageously funny one moment and dead serious the next. He’s a strong singer, a hell of a storyteller and has a good sense of the kind of incident where there’s a song just waiting to be written about it. Like pretty much everybody in his line of work did before the lockdown, he made his living on the road.

When you sign up, he sends you all the stuff in a series of emails. with a lot of mini-playlists, free downloads and videos. Day one is a good introduction. It begins with a free download of High Road Home, an ambiguous and troubled workingman’s anthem (Stamm has a LOT of those). There’s more than a hint of Sam Llanas soul in the vocals, in this live duo version with low-key, purposeful acoustic lead player David Glover.

There’s also a duo version of the grimly aphoristic Crow Creek in the original A major key – which actually turns out better than the minor-key version Stamm recorded in the studio. But the centerpiece is Blame It on the Dog. It’s insanely funny and it has a trick ending. Without giving too much away, the dog is not always to blame for what’s going on here.

Later on during the “adventure” he celebrates “Busch Lights and a purple haze” – yikes – over a slow soul sway in a full band version of Bottle You Up, a salute to daydrinking. It’s also Stamm’s opportunity to pitch his line of suggestive beer-related t-shirts and such.

A little further into the “adventure” he completely flips the script with Ring of Roses, a folksy, John Prine-ish number inspired by a guy who was in hospice care, but that didn’t stop him from planning his next construction project. For freedom-loving people in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Stamm’s next gig is on Oct 10 at 10 PM at Bigs Bar at 3110 W. 12th St.

You may be wondering why on earth a New York music blog would be paying so much attention to shows in such a faraway place as South Dakota. There are actually many reasons why, which you should think about, and one of them is that there are there’s more going on musically in South Dakota than there is in New York City right now – at least as far as publicly advertised shows are concerned. And if that’s not cause for concern, somebody’s asleep at the wheel.