New York Music Daily

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Category: dub music

Some Great December Shows Reprised This Month

Who says December is a slow month for live music in New York? The first three weeks were a nonstop barrage of good shows. And a lot of those artists will be out there this month for you to see.

Last summer, Innov Gnawa played a couple of pretty radical Barbes gigs. With bandleader Hassan Ben Jaafer’s hypnotically slinky sintir bass lute and the chorus of cast-iron qraqab players behind him, they went even further beyond the undulating, shapeshifting, ancient call-and-response of their usual traditional Moroccan repertoire. Those June and July shows both plunged more deeply into the edgy, chromatically-charged Middle Eastern sounds of hammadcha music, with even more jamming and turn-on-a-dime shifts in the rhythm. Innov – get it?

So their most recent show at Nublu 151 last month seemed like a crystallization of everything they’d been working on. The usual opening benediction of sorts when everybody comes to the stage, Ben Jaafer leading the parade with his big bass drum slung over his shoulder; a serpentine chant sending a shout out to ancient sub-Saharan spirits; and wave after wave of mesmerizing metallic mist fueled by Ben Jaafer’s catchy riffage and impassioned vocals.

Ben Jaafer’s protege and bandmate Samir LanGus opened the night with an even trippier show, playing sintir and leading a band including Innov’s  Nawfal Atiq and Amino Belyamani on qraqabs and vocals, along with Big Lazy’s Yuval Lion on drums, Dave Harrington on guitar, plus alto sax. Elements of dub, and funk, and acidic postrock filtered through the mix as the rhythms changed. Innov Gnawa are back at Nublu 151 on Jan 12 at around 6:30 with trumpeter Itamar Borochov for ten bucks; then the following night, Jan 13 they’re at Joe’s Pub at 7:45 PM for twice that, presumably for people who don’t want to dance.

The rest of last month’s shows that haven’t been mentioned here already were as eclectically fun as you would expect in this melting pot of ours. Slinky Middle Eastern band Sharq Attack played a mix of songs that could have been bellydance classics from Egypt or Lebanon, or originals – it was hard to tell. Oudist Brian Prunka had written one of the catchiest of the originals as a piece for beginners. “But as it turned out, it’s really hard,” violinist Marandi Hostetter laughed. The subtle shifts in the tune and the groove didn’t phase the all-star Brooklyn ensemble.

Another allstar Brooklyn group, Seyyah played an even more lavish set earlier in the month at the monthly Balkan night at Sisters Brooklyn in Fort Greene. With the reliably intense, often pyrotechnic Kane Mathis on oud behind Jenny Luna’s soaring, poignant microtonal vocals, you wouldn’t have expected the bass player to be the star of the show any more than you’d expect Adam Good to be playing bass. But there he was, not just pedaling root notes like most American bassists do with this kind of music, his slithery slides and hammer-ons intertwining with oud and violin. The eight-piece band offer a rare opportunity to see a group this size playing classic and original Turkish music at Cornelia St. Cafe at Jan 15, with sets at 8 and 9:30 PM. Cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum.

When Locobeach’s bassist hit an ominous minor-key cumbia riff and then the band edged its way into Sonido Amazonico midway through their midmonth set at Barbes, the crowd went nuts. The national anthem of cumbia was the title track to Chicha Libre’s classic debut album; as a founding member of that legendary Brooklyn psychedelic group, Locobeach keyboardist Josh Camp was crucial to their sound. This version rocked a little harder and went on for longer than Chicha Libre’s typically did – and Camp didn’t have his trebly, keening Electrovox accordion synth with him for it. This crew are more rock and dub-oriented than Chicha Libre, although they’re just as trippy – and funny. They’re back at Barbes on Jan 15 at 10. 

There were four other Barbes shows last month worth mentioning. “Stoner,” one individual in the know said succinctly as Dilemastronauta Y Los Sabrosos Cosmicos bounced their way through a pulsing set blending elements of psychedelic salsa, cumbia, Afrobeat and dub reggae. Their rhythm section is killer: the bass and drums really have a handle on classic Lee Scratch Perry style dub and roots, and the horns pull the sound out of the hydroponic murk. They’re back at Barbes on Jan 10 at around 10.

Also midmonth, resonator guitarist Zeke Healy and violist Karen Waltuch took an expansive excursion through a couple of sets of Appalachian classics and a dadrock tune or two, reinventing them as bucolic, psychedelic jams. For the third year in a row, the all-female Accord Treble Choir sang an alternately majestic and celestial mix of new choral works and others from decades and centuries past, with lively solos and tight counterpoint. And the Erik Satie Quartet treated an early Saturday evening crowd to stately new brass arrangements of pieces by obscure 1920s French composers, as well as some similar new material.

At the American Folk Art Museum on the first of the month, singer/guitarist Miriam Elhajli kept the crowd silent with her eclecticism, her soaring voice and mix of songs that spanned from Venezuela to the Appalachians, including one rapturous a-capella number. And at the Jalopy the following week, another singer, Queen Esther played a set of sharply lyrical, sardonic jazz songs by New York underground legend Lenny Molotov, her sometime bandmate in one of the city’s funnest swing bands, the Fascinators. She’s at the Yamaha Piano Salon at 689 5h Ave (enter on 54th St) on Jan 14, time tba.

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Trippy, Eclectic Sounds in Deep Bushwick This Sunday Night

This December 3 there’s an excellent multi-band lineup put together by boutique Brooklyn label Very Special Recordings at Secret Project Robot, 1186 Broadway between Lafayette and Van Buren in Bushwick. The show starts at 8; the lineup, in reverse order, is psychedelic Afrobeat headliners the People’s Champs; female-fronted trip-hop/postrock band Green and Glass; brilliant bassist Ezra Gale’s funky, dub-inspired psychedelic project the Eargoggle; psychedelic pastoral jazz guitarist Dustin Carlson; similarly eclectic guitarist Ryan Dugre; and cinematic guitar-and-EFX dude Xander Naylor, who can be a lot louder and more fearsome than his latest, more low-key album. Cover is ten bucks; take the J to Kosciusko St.

It’s an album release show for the label’s new Brooklyn Mixtape, streaming at Bandcamp. The playlist is a cheat sheet for their signature, eclectic mix of hypnotic, globally-influenced grooves as well as some more jazz, postrock and indie classical-oriented sounds, which are a new direction from the stoner organic dance music they’re probably best known for.

The A-side begins with Swipe Viral, by Sheen Marina, a skittish, math-y, no wave-ish number awash in all kinds of reverb: “I gotta go to the edge of a digital world where I can find my soul,” the singer says snottily. Green and Glass’ Night Runner brings to mind Madder Rose with its slow trip-hop sway, uneasy low tremolo-picked harp anchoring frontwoman Lucia Stavros’ clear, cheery vocals.

Ryan Dugre’s Mute Swan makes postrock out of what sounds like a balmy Nigerian balafon theme. He’s also represented by another track, the pretty, spare, baroque-tinged pastorale Elliott, on side B.

There are three Eargoggle tracks here. Picking My Bones opens with a tasty chromatic bass solo: deep beneath this sparse lament, there’s a bolero lurking. The second number is You’re Feeling Like, a blippy oldschool disco tune with dub tinges. A muted uke-pop song, Hero, closes the mix

Shakes, by Carlson, is a gorgeously lustrous brass piece with countryish vocals thrown on top. Trombonist Rick Parker and acoustic pipa player Li Diaguo team up for the album’s best and most menacing track, the eerily cinematic, slowly crescendoing Make Way For the Mane of Spit and Nails. Then Middle Eastern-influenced noir surf band Beninghove’s Hangmen put on their Zep costumes to wind up the A-side with the coyly boisterous Zohove, from their hilarious Beninghove’s Hangmen Play Led Zeppelin album.

The.People’s Champs open the B-side with a throwaway. Twin-trombone roots reggae band Super Hi-Fi – whose lineup also includes Parker and Gale – toss in an echoey Victor Rice dub. Xander Naylor kicks in Appearances, a shifting, loopy resonator guitar piece with innumerable trippy overdubs.And Council of Eyeforms’ slowly coalescing, oscillating tableau Planet Earth – with guitarist Jon Lipscomb of Super Hi-Fi – is the most hypnotically psychedelic cut.

All of these artists have albums or singles out with the label, who deserve a look if sounds that can be equally pensive and danceable are your thing.

A Psychedelically Cinematic New Album and a Brooklyn Release Show by Sxip Shirey

For the last several months, when he hasn’t been on tour or on set for one theatrical performance or another, multi-instrumentalist Sxip Shirey has been tracking at Martin Bisi‘s legendary (and hopefully, sooner than later, landmarked) BC Studios. The Luminescent Orchestrii co-founder contributed to the marathon weekend there last year in celebration of the space’s 35th anniversary. Watching him play blues harp through a Death Star-sized pedalboard, dueling with slinky bass virtuoso Don Godwin (better known as the funky tuba player who propelled Raya Brass Band for so long) was a real trip, considering that this happened at around eleven on a Sunday morning. Shirey has a new album, A Bottle of Whiskey and a Handful of Bees – which hasn’t made it to the usual spots yet, although there a few tracks up at youtube – and an album release show at 7 PM on Jan 9 at National Sawdust. Advance tix are steep – $30 – but he doesn’t play around New York much anymore.

Since his pioneering Romany/circus rock band went on hiatus, Shirey’s thing has been loopmusic. As you would expect from a film composer, he takes some giant stylistic leaps between genres and makes it all look easy. This is a fun, quirky album that’s probably best cut and pasted among a bunch of favorite playlists: there’s something for every mood and theme here. It opens with the first of a couple of trippy, atmospheric miniatures, then shifts to a more psychedelic take on New Order and then a downtempo neosoul vamp with woozy vocals from Rihannon Giddens.

Crooner Xavier takes over lead vocals on I Got a Man, a steady, loopy resonator guitar blues-scape, then returns later on Cinnamon Stick, a homoerotic mashup of corporate urban pop, country blues and deep dub. Latency (Jetlag) is an uneasy music-box theme of sorts, while Shirey’s darkly exuberant minor-key blues harp on Grandpa Charlie brings to mind another charismatic New York frontman, Hazmat Modine‘s Wade Schuman.

Shirey follows the moody So Stay – akin to Iron & Wine covering the Sisters of Mercy – with Awake, a detour into spiky pine-forest acoustic psychedelia. Fat Robot blends New Orleans funk tinges into its trip-hop sway – it sounds like one of those Sunday morning tracks from Bisi’s place. Giddens returns to the mic on the ecstatic Just Drive By, Firefly, akin to a late 80s Bomb Squad take on a big soul anthem from twenty years before. I Didn’t See Her Walking In stays in the 80s, but with a slick Britpop gloss. Bracingly scrapy strings give way to a bubbly pulse in The Land Whale Choir Sings the Albert Hall, while Bach, Stevie Wonder and Janelle Monae is a lot more latter than former.

The big anthem Palms could be the Waterboys doing a Lou Reed tune. After that, Shirey brings to mind a more acoustic, less Asian take on Ryuichi Sakamoto’s early 80s scores.

Beninghove’s Hangmen Bring Their Cinematic Menace to the Gritty Side of the Hudson

The last time Beninghove’s Hangmen played Brooklyn Bowl, they hit the stage with a single mghty, ominous minor chord and just let it resonate, and simmer, building a blue-flame ambience that would recur again and again throughout the show. Frontman Bryan Beninghove’s tenor sax blended with Rick Parker’s looming trombone, Dane Johnson’s guitar fanning the flames as guest drummer Kevin Shea (of Mostly Other People Do the Killing) brought in a hailstorm of cymbals, Johnson finally firing off a creepy Turkish lick, and then they were off into the horror surf of Hangmen’s Manouche. There is no more menaciungly cinematic band on the planet than these guys right now. For musical cinephiles across the Hudson, they’re playing Saturday night, January 16 at 10 PM at the Fox & Crow, 594 Palisade Ave. in Jersey City heights. For serious adventurers coming from this side of the river, you’re better off taking the Path to Hoboken and then making the trek uphill than you are trying to get there from Journal Square at the center of town.

That first number was epic: chugging call-and-response, shuddering elephantine groans, a smoky roadhouse blues sax solo from the bandleader and a Lizzie Borden guitar solo that went on just as long. And a trick ending, and then the band sped it up! So the morose stroll of the title track to their amazing forthcoming album Pineapples and Ashtrays made a contrast, all the more so as the band took their time through gentle Bill Frisell pastoral colors…and then got more menacing, then followed a murderous/charming dichotomy through a series of droll 60s cocktail-party jazz interludes, after which the axe-murderer intensity would go up several notches. Beninghove can be a real cutup onstage, and he was here, unable to resist hitting a sarcastic siren motif at one point.

From there they went into Lynchian dub, Parker’s low-flying thunderclouds matched by bassist Ezra Gale’s broodingly minimalist low-end pulse. And as the horns gleamed, and soared upward, suddenly it was clear: they were making crime jazz out of Burning Spear’s iconic hit, Marcus Garvey! For all the relentless darkness in this band’s music, they’re pretty hilarious.

Gale’s stalking bass pushed the gritty, Doorsy nocturnal groove that followed, Beninghove’s horn chart bringing to mind Quincy Jones’ In the Heat of the Night score as Johnson played sunbaked acid blues. From there the band scampered furtively through the getaway anthem Surf ‘N Turk, then made tongue-in-cheek, Nick Cave-inflected psychedelia out of an old Neil Diamond radio hit and treated the bowlers to the right of the stage to an even funnier, manic Viking jazz cover of a Led Zep number.

Super Hi-Fi headlined. One of the tourists at the bowling lanes adjacent to the stage asked Gale – who was pulling a doubleheader – what they were playing. He did a doubletake, then responded, “Christmas music, that’s what!” And he was telling the truth. The twin-trombone dub reggae band recorded and remixed more than a couple of sides of pretty hilarious, spot-on Lee Scratch Perry style dub versions of Christmas carols a couple of years ago, and have released them in two volumes of what they call A Very Dubby Christmas. This show gave them the chance to take their time with some of the tracks from the latest one.

What makes Super Hi-Fi so much more interesting than your typical reggae band that just vamps on a couple of chords for what seems like hours on end is how much detail they fill in the blanks with: there’s always something fun and unexpected going on. Who knew that guitarist Jon Lipscomb was going to go off into skronky downtown jazz? Or how drummer Madhu Siddappa was going to hold things together with a dead-serious one-drop pulse. Overhead, Parker – also doing double duty – traded wry phrases with fellow ‘bone player Kevin Moehringer when they weren’t trying to keep straight faces as they made their way through happily brief snippets of holiday “favorites” like We Three Kings and the like. Afrobeat and the Specials permeated Irving Berlin and poker-faced Teutonic year-end themes with an irresistibly smoky grin, with the occasional tumble toward free jazz freakout or straight-ahead Skatalites skank. Considering how these two bands share members, another twinbill wouldn’t be out of the question.

A Second Sick, Reverb-Drenched Disc of Holiday Dub from Super Hi-Fi

Super Hi-Fi play live dub reggae. Their signature sound blends the twin-trombone frontline of Rick Parker and Curtis Fowlkes (of Lounge Lizards/Jazz Passengers fame) into a moodier, sometimes noir-tinged take on vintage Lee Scratch Perry or what the Skatalites were doing in their quieter moments during the golden age of Jamaican ska. When the band started, they had more of an Afrobeat feel, no surprise since bassist/bandleader Ezra Gale led first-rate, second-wave Bay Area Afrobeat band Aphrodesia. These days, they’re a lot slinkier and more low key. From their doomy and seriously excellent debut album, Dub to the Bone, you’d have no idea just how funny this band can be…unless you also know the follow-up to that, Yule Analog Vol. 1, a snarky collection of dub versions of Christmas carols. Sure enough, when the band went into the studio, they did enough of those to fill not one but two cds  – four album sides, considering that the band is known for their vinyl releases – of this shit. And they’re back, with Yule Analog, Vol. 2 – streaming at Bandcamp – and a show in the front window at the intimate, laid-back Bar Chord in Ditmas Park on December 19 at 9.

The previous collection opened with a theme that Jethro Tull was known for pilfering – are you laughing yet? This time it’s Simon & Garfunkel. OK, not a Simon & Garfunkel original, and not with the samples or the antiwar message. What it does have is tons of reverb on the guitar, gently oscillating organ, a rhythm section that sways rather than skanks along and meanderingly goodnatured ska-jazz trombone solos. It sets the stage: the most recurring joke here is the cat-and-mouse game about what song they’re playing and how far they go with it.

O Come All Ye Faithfull (with the double L in “faithfull” – oldschool 90s stoner humor?) doesn’t do that as much, and after awhile the carol has you reaching for the fast-forward. The Christmas Song takes a very, very, very familiar Irving Berlin theme toward swing, with a wry Mitch Marcus tenor sax solo that fades just when it seems like there’s a serious punchline on deck. But the Tschaikovsky theme is killer: who else would have thought to wring Jamdown noir and ambient noise from the Nutcracker?

Gale and drummer Madhu Siddappa keep What Child Is This very close to the ground for a bit until the screams from Jon Lipscomb’s guitar signal another chorus: it’s not hard to imagine this epically delicious plate emanating from the Black Ark in a cloud of ganja smoke circa 1976. They follow that with a funny ska song, Please Santa Bring Me an Echoplex, the album’s only vocal number.

The rest of the tracks are versions of the early songs, and each is an improvement. O Come All Ye etc. gets a black-hole spin through the Echoplex. The Tschaikovsky grows into a mind-altering blend of the baroque, King Tubby and postbop jazz. There’s also the noisy What Version Is This?  [memo to self – isn’t there a carol called It Came Upon a  Midnight Clear?] and a brief Echoplex Reprise. The joke works better before or after December: as heavy disguises as these songs wear, it’s hard to avoid reaching holiday smarm saturation point this time of year. Unless you do your grocery shopping and other retail stuff where this blog travels – in that case, that means salsa, bachata, reggaeton and Polish hip-hop. All of which have never sounded better than they have this month.

A Catchy, Smartly Arranged New Album and a Maxwell’s Show by Roots Reggae Stars Kiwi

Kiwi are the best roots reggae band in the tri-state area, maybe the best roots reggae band in the entire northeast. What elevates them above the other groups in what’s now a legacy genre, like bluegrass or Chicago blues, is how much they have going on in their songs. Bassist Steve Capecci anchors them with a fat, minimalist, wickedly catchy pulse: as with a lot of reggae from the golden age in the 70s, it’s the bass hooks that often serve as the songs’ central point. Likewise, drummer Ramsey Norman holds down the groove with a low-key, elegant approach, having fun with the occasional Sly Dunbar-style accent and oldschool one-drop flourish. Frontman/guitarist Alex Tea’s tunes shift shape in a split second, unpredictably and counterintuitively., with elements of oldschool soul music, dub, rocksteady and the occasional departure toward psychedelic art-rock. His arrangements, including horns and multi-keys, spread the textures across the sonic picture. The purist production of their new album A Room with a View – streaming at Spotify – looks back forty years.  They’re headlining at 10 PM on November 28 at Maxwell’s in Hoboken; one of the world’s great ska sax players, Dave Hillyard & the Rocksteady 7 open the night at 9. Cover is $10.

The new album opens with New Year Steady, its catchy, spare, fat low-register bass hook, Memphis soul-infused guitar, slinky organ and a jaunty horn chart straight out of mid-70s Stevie Wonder. Wait Until Tomorrow is a spare, bouncy number fueled by a catchy bass riff and airy horns, in the same vein as a Burning Spear hit from about 25 years ago. Likewise, the balmy horn arrangement for February, which hints that it’s going to go in a dub direction before it rises to a triumphantly anthemic chorus, fueled by an animated exchange between the horns – then, finally, it gets all trippy.

Against the Wall, with its edgy, tense horns over boomy, ominous bass and troubled lyrics, brings to mind vintage Steel Pulse, Barami Waspe adding an all-too-brief, brooding tenor sax solo. The band picks things up from there with How Many Times, which looks back to Bob Marley at his mid-70s sunniest. Long Ago pairs tersely chugging organ from Dave Stolarz with Capecci’s bare-bones yet bone-penetrating bass. I Come Around comes around from an atmospheric, art rock-tinged verse to yet another one of the band’s signature catchy choruses. They follow that with the bass-fueled lovers rock ballad As I Am.

All Through the Evening takes the music back up into big anthemic territory, the brass and keys giving it a mighty majesty before the band slowly makes their way down toward dub…and then they’re done. With Red, they go back toward vintage Burning Spear and mash that up with Steel Pulse, again working the dynamics from towering and triumphant to sparse and suspenseful. The best track on the album is the moodily reflective, noir-tinged, minor-key Simmer. The album winds up with Trees, its soul jazz-inspired tune looking back to early 70s Third World. If this thing came out back then, it would have ruled the album charts.

Faith Put Their Individualistic Downtown NYC Spin on Classic Roots Reggae

For the better part of two decades, reggae-rockers Faith have been one of New York’s most distinctive, intoxicatingly groove-driven bands. Frontwoman Felice Rosser’s deep, purposefully exploratory basslines established her long ago as one of the most consistently interesting and original four-string players in town. She sings in an earthy, unselfconsciously soulful contralto that brings to mind Nina Simone, but with more range and a breathier, more balmy upper register. The band has a brand-new ep, Soul Secrets – streaming at Soundcloud – and a show tonight, November 14 at 8 PM at Matchless in Williamsburg where they’re followed by metalish cinema rock band Western Estates and then postrock pioneer Wharton Tiers – who recorded this album – and his band. Cover is $8.

The album’s title track has a driving vintage 70s roots reggae feel – think Aswad, Steel Pulse, Jacob Miller, i.e. the more guitar-fueled acts from reggae’s golden age. “Sometimes we are two cultured pearls inside a crusty shell,” Rosser muses in Lovers, which-builds from a slinky guitar-and-organ roots groove to a harder-edged, guitar-fueled chorus, Rosser shifting seamlessly from her powerful low range to an arguably even more powerful falsetto. Her rising bass matches Nao Hakamada’s slowly crescendoing, smoldering guitar solo.

The third track, Love of a Lifetime falls midway between those two styles, Hakamada pulling the band out of a dizzying dub interlude with some neat backward-masked riffage before he takes the energy further toward redline. The slow/midtempo, early 70s style soul-jazz infused Carried Away brings to mind classic-period Third World. There’s also a dub version of that track that gives the whole band, especially drummer Paddy Boom more headroom for his psychedelic textures. Much as there’s plenty of studio sorcery going on here, especially in the deepest of the dub moments, the album is a good approximation of Faith’s hypnotic live show. They’re a New York institution: there aren’t many people left from the Lower East Side when it was a hotbed of creativity, 10 or 20 years ago, who haven’t seen them. Now it’s your turn.

Tasty Psychedelic Cumbias and Dancefloor Delirium from Consumata Sonidera

Consumata Sonidera opened their set the evening of the fourth at Paperbox with a steady four-on-the-floor beat and a catchy four-chord latin rock tune (what’s up with all these fours?) fueled by guitarist Puffy Ramirez’s edgy, distortion-tinged chords and frontman/alto saxophonist Bruno Navarro’s eerily crystalline lines. And then suddenly drummer Jorge Black hit a cumbia beat…and within seconds the room had filled. The crowd were like rats to a trap baited with bacon – it was almost funny. Navarro seized the moment with his wry, gruff vocals, and the set just got more slinky and fun from there. Consumata Sonidera are a late addition to open that excellent ska/punk bill at Grand Victory on October 10 at 7 PM which also features anthemic Celtic-flavored punk rockers the Crypt Keeper 5 and perennially popular 90s ska band Inspecter 7 headlining; cover is $15 and worth it.

At the Paperbox show, the band followed the first of their psychedelic cumbias with a shapeshifting tropical number that veered between dub and hardcore, wah guitar giving way to a searchlight alto sax break: if the Bad Brains had gone deeper into dub, this is what they would have sounded like. They went back to cumbia sabrosa from there, Billybob’s fat bass anchoring the snakecharmer ambience as the guitar skanked and the sax sailed uneasily overhead. By now, everybody in the impressively multicultural crowd was dancing: imagine that, a dancefloor full of random people who’d wandered in from the flea market in too-cool-for-school Bushwick!

From there they took a rambunctious detour into surf rock with a south-of-the-border tune that alluded to the classic Pipeline, but not close enough to be a straight-up ripoff. Billybob shifted from a deep, reggae-tinged pulse to nimble, trebly lines that he played with a pick, but that didn’t slow him down as the band made their way from cumbia to ska to more doublespeed punk and eventually a long, ominously murky dub interlude at the end of a Mexican folk-tinged dance number, everybody going way down into the abyss. And then Navarro slowly brought them back up out of the smokiness as the guiitar’s reverb-drenched echoes bounced off the cinderblock. They sent another echoey, Guns of Brixton-ish reggae shout-out to their peeps, then back to the cumbias, Ramirez hitting his pedal for some creepy, watery textures. It’s hard to imagine a catchier or cooler band opening a hot set on a Saturday night.

The Brown Rice Family Bring Their Latin-Inspired Reggae and Ska to Drom, With a Psychedelic New Album

For the past several years, the Brown Rice Family have been one of New York’s most consistently fun jambands. Their catchy, danceable songs blend ska and reggae with all kinds of south-of-the-border sounds. They won the WNYC Battle of the Bands back when that achievement actually meant something – which wasn’t that long ago, actually. They’ve got a new album, Havana to Kingston, and an album release show on July 9 at 8 PM at Drom; advance tix are $10.

The basic band lineup is Sticky Rice and Okai on vocals, Yuichi on percussion, Soils on soprano sax, Amu on bass, Kaz on guitar, Isaiah on tenor sax and clarinet and Tama on drums. Like so many classic New York bands, their members hail from diverse backgrounds, representing Haiti, Japan, Nigeria and Jamaica and this city as well. The album kicks off with a really funny intro, a Jamaican guy hitting on a coy Cuban bartendress, leading into the first single, Latin Goes Ska, drawing equally on the original Alejandro Tovar Cuban hit as well as the better-known Skatalites remake for a joyous dancehall-infused jam lit up with sizzling horn solos.

Listening to the album, the first thing that hits you is that these songs are long: they go on for six or seven minutes at a clip, with a subtle dub influence. The oldschool roots reggae anthem Gun Town blends Israel Vibration harmonies to a classic Burning Spear-style groove, with a potent anti-violence message. Say What You Wanna Say is a punchy, upbeat blend of horn-fueled soca and vintage 80s dancehall. Repatriation (Mama Africa) builds to a lushly orchestrated, Rasta-themed peak, in the same vein as one of the more anthemic tracks on Bob Marley’s Kaya album –  Kaz’s Memphis-inspired guitar solo caps it off.

The propulsively bubbling Zimbabwe (Illegal Economic Sanctions) addresses the issue of how multinational corporations push western governments into terrorizing the third world, creating a new slave state for this era’s global robber barons. Moving Forward takes a potently relevant detour into conscious funk – “Eminent domain taking over your mainframe” – with a shout-out to a classic Crusaders hit. The band goes back to roots reggae with She’s Gone: “I”m becoming dysfunctional,” Sticky Rice laments, before a balmy Augustus Pablo-style melodica solo kicks off a dub interlude. The album winds up with Surfing, a vintage 70s roots groove. Since the record isn’t out yet, it’s not at any of the usual streaming sites, although it’s a good bet that the band will have some copies of it at this show. And as good and purist as the recording is, ultimately this is a live band: you really have to see them to appreciate them, whether you just want to chill and sway to the riddim or rock out and dance, either way they’re happy to have you there.

Can We Please Never Ever Hear Xmas Music Again?

How sadistic is it to review an album of Christmas music the day after the holiday? Well, kind of. But there’s a catch here. See, Super Hi-Fi‘s Yule Analog Vol. 1: A Very Dubby Christmas – streaming at Spotify – was written by and for people who HATE Christmas music.

And who doesn’t? Come to think of it, Hanukkah music is pretty awful too. There isn’t any of that on this masterfully crafted dub reggae remake of a bunch of old carols, but there might as well be: the source material for most of these songs is quickly subsumed in an icy wash of echo and reverb and tasty trombone. The point of all this is that it’s good all year long, a good joke to pull on a roomful of stoners:

“Dude, you just put on a Christmas album! Hahahahaha!”

“You’ve been listening to it for the last half hour, doofus.”

Bassist Ezra Gale rescues We Three Kings with a classic minor-key riff, and does much the same with his arrangements of the other cheeseballs on the program. To his infinite credit, most of this stuff is just plain good, woozy, echoey dub in a purist oldschool Black Ark vein. Beyond fiddling with the knobs, his secret is to reharmonize the melodies just a smidge, an old jazz trope.

The trombonists – Rick Parker and Alex Asher (of John Brown’s Body) can barely contain their cynicism on It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, but Gale’s chart quickly sends them off on a soca tangent with Jon Lipscomb’s guitar spinning amiably behind them. There’s a second version of that song later on that’s much better, and catchier, for being unrecognizable.

Little Drummer Boy, arguably the ickiest Christmas song ever, will leave you on the floor laughing: it’s an audio whippit, courtesy of Lipscomb’s full-on nitrous assault. Gale and the band get away with leaving Go Tell It on the Mountain more intact than most everything here, which works since it’s a spiritual and hasn’t been played to death during the holiday season. The second version of the song, which appears later, is even better and more dynamic.

The band flips the script by kicking off God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen as a ska tune, drummer Madhu Siddappa keeping it pretty straight-ahead before Gale gets crazy with the faders and the reverb knob. There are two versions of the title track, the second one longer and with more of a duppy-invoking 70s Jamaican atmosphere than the other. Either way, it’s the most hypnotic, psychedelic piece of music here, and if it’s not an original, what it was to begin with is a mystery. There’s also a ska version of Auld Lang Syne that sounds like it was inspired by a lot more beer than weed. For those whose contempt for Christmas music hasn’t reached breaking point, this album’s good for plenty of laughs.