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.