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Category: folk music

Five Times August’s Silent War: The Best Rock Album of 2022

Akin to his predecessors Woody Guthrie and Phil Ochs, songwriter Five Times August burst on the scene in 2020 playing solo acoustic at freedom rallies. Over the last couple of years, his hilarious videos have gone viral, to the point where he’s probably the most popular protest singer in the US. Another reason for that popularity is that he’s a hell of a songwriter. The man known to some as Brad Skistimas has finally assembled those songs on a full-length album, Silent War, streaming at Bandcamp. This lyrically scorching, often seethingly funny record isn’t just the best album of 2022: Five Times August brings receipts. Time may judge this a classic, as important and vivid a portrait of an era as the Dead Kennedys’ Frankenchrist.

The songs are straightforward and uncluttered to an extreme, mostly just vocals and acoustic guitar. The cheery bounce of the opening track, God Help Us All is a stark contrast to the torrent of cynical rhymes for a time of reality inversion and mass psychosis:

Citizen fools and brand new rules make everyone a hero now
Keep your distance, no resistance, only do what you’re allowed…
See no evil, bow to the needle, didn’t we turn out great?
Sick is the new health, poor is the new wealth, truth is whatever they say…
Divide and conquer, weak not stronger, everybody know your place
Do it now, it won’t hurt, dig into your own dirt, virtue found its grave

Skistimas has remade his viral hit Jesus… What Happened to Us? with a lot more energy as well. It’s less of a lament than searing cautionary tale:

Mark, Jack, Bill, Joe, they’ll teach you what you need to know,
They’ll give you your permissions and tell you where to go…
Shut your mouth, get in line, just behave or pay the fine
They’re pulling on your backbone and taking out your spine

The album’s funniest video hit is Outtayerdaminde, a rapidfire litany of Libs of Tiktok narcissism and buffoonery. Then Skistimas reaches for a scampering acoustic Dylan vibe in I Will Not Be Leaving Quietly, a defiant clapalong anthem.

This blog picked the solemnly waltzing title track as the best song of 2021, and it’s aged tragically well:

They’ve covered your mouth and tied back your hands
They did it to all of the kids
And nobody knows all the damage it’s done
And won’t ask until the master permits…
Take back your freedom and fight for your life, stand up before it’s all gone

Track six, simply titled Joe, is a venomous front-porch folk variant on a folk song that Jimi Hendrix immortalized, referencing the pullout from Afghanistan, the 2020 election and the perils inherent in having a guy with late-stage Alzheimer’s in the Oval Office. The ending is too good to give away.

Sad Little Man, probably the only bestselling single to ever appear on this page, is a creepy, tiptoeing portrait of the career bureaucrat who conspired with Jeremy Farrar and the British MI5 gestapo to launch the plandemic in 2020.

Skistimas hits a Subterranean Homesick drive in Anti-Fascist Blues, a full-band go-go blues broadside targeting cancel culture: “Make yourself a slave until you think that you’re free, dig yourself a grave for the American dream.”

This Just In is a defiant shout-out the Canadian truckers – and the funniest, most spot-on portrait of Justin Trudeau ever written. Likewise, Fight For You is tender but resolute: love during the most hideous holocaust in world history.

The most towering, haunting anthem here is Gates Behind the Bars. It could be the best song of 2022:

The geek’s in control, he’s changed his disguise
His chemical world will be your demise
He’s sick and he’s cruel and acts like he’s God
Speaks on the stage while zombies applaud
The creep’s not alone, he plots with his friends,
The forum they have is a circle of sin
There’s snakes all around who traffic and kill
They’ll dope up the world with needles and pills

Skistimas switches to piano for Lions:

Someday when the truth has been revealed
After all the effort to be healed
You will see the wounded everywhere you go
So wake up with the lions, don’t let yourself stay asleep

He winds up the album with a couple of bonus covers, a stripped-down version of the Tom Petty hit I Won’t Back Down and a Guthrie-esque Star Spangled Banner.

Thanks to the world’s #1 “misinformation spreader,” Steve Kirsch for the heads-up about this one.

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The Ragas Live Festival 2022, Part 2: Hits and Misses

This year’s return of the 24-hour-plus Ragas Live festival of Indian music and related sounds was so epic that it requires two parts to reasonably digest. The frequently rapturous first half was reviewed here yesterday. The second part was also often transcendent, with some issues.

Let’s tackle those and then get to the good stuff. You’re never going to see fusion jazz on this page: with rare exceptions, good jazz is basically acoustic music. So if you enjoyed the tropical midnight act and the interminable Moroccan fusion interlude yesterday afternoon, glad you had a good time.

It would have been fun to catch sitarist Abhik Mukherjee‘s set to begin the second half of the marathon. Who knew that a trip for coffee a little earlier in the morning would also have turned into a marathon, a much less enjoyable one.

Back at Pioneer Works, bansuri flutist Jay Gandhi took an absolutely harrowing detour, running variations on a haunting, wary chromatic theme with Ehren Hanson on tabla for what seemed the better part of an hour. Beyond Gandhi’s breathtakingly liquid, perfectly modulated sine-wave attack, the somber mood was impossible to turn away from. These are troubled times: nobody has channeled that with such subtle power in recent months as these two. Which made their clever and allusive permutations on a bouncy nursery-rhyme-like riff afterward such a stark contrast. And yet, the darkness lingered, if at a distance.

Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, whose most recent specialty has become oceanic Middle Eastern big band jazz, followed with about an hour of brooding electroacoustic sounds. Starting off on a labyrinthine rack of analog synthesizers, he rose from enveloping ambience to an achingly gorgeous, regal solo trumpet fanfare in a moody Iraqi maqam. Next, he looped an austere, baroquely churchy organ processional, then employed it as a backdrop for a constellation of santoor riffs which echoed Gandhi’s pervasive angst. He wound up the set on vocals with a similarly cautionary clarion call, more or less.

Another santoorist, Vinay Desai kept the angst at redline with a saturnine tribute to the late, great Shivkumar Sharma, who left us this past spring. We don’t know for certain if the lethal Covid injection took him out. With Vivek Pandya on tabla, the two musicians developed an absolutely gorgeous, elegaic, allusively chromatic theme and variations. Remaining mostly in the midrange, Desai rose for the great beyond with a somber glimmer before bringing it down to a dirge and the tabla entered. As the hour went on, Desai’s ripples off the walls of the space echoed into a galactic drift. Eventually, the duo took the theme skipping into the stars, a sober but energetic farewell to a pioneer.

ElSaffar returned for a second turn on santoor, joining percussionist Zafer Tawil and violinist Sami Abu Shumays behind impassioned veteran Iraqi crooner Hamid Al Saadi. After the sober, stately initial march, the maqam singer would begin the rest of the set’s expansive numbers with darkly dynamic, rubato intros, one leading to a surprisingly subtle call-and-response with ElSaffar. A little later, the group made their way into a swaying, ebullient major-key tune with a starkly contrasting santoor-and- violin break. They closed with undulating, biting chromatic theme with even more lusciously intertwined santoor and violin and a machinegunning coda.

Violinist Arun Ramamurthy gets credit for the festival’s most pyrotechnic performance, a role he’s become accustomed to. This time out he had his Indian jazz trio with bassist Damon Banks and Sameer Gupta on drums. This was the symphonic Ramamurthy: in the boomy space, with the natural reverb bouncing off the walls, he was a violin army. Banks would typically shadow him, Gupta inventively doing a nimble churning groove with tabla voicings on his kit, as the bandleader made his way through a rising and falling epic in tribute to his ancestors, to moments of icy ambience as well as frequent excursions through the bluesy raga riffs that he likes to mine in this context. Nobody knows how to draw an audience in with foreshadowing and judiciously spectacular slides and stabs better than Ramamurthy.

After that it was dance time. All-female Moroccan trance-dance ensemble group Bnat el Houariyat, featuring New York’s Esraa Warda took over the stage and then stomped and twirled and spoke power to male hegemony.

In her New York debut, singer/dancer and mystic Parvathy Baul brought ancient archetypes to life in a fervent but utterly unselfconsciously spiritual set of Bengali ritual songs. Showing off a soulfully soaring, meticulously melismatic, carnatically-infused voice which took on a grittier edge as her set went on, she sang innumerable mythical metaphors and cheerily translated them for the English-only crowd. Moving from ecstasy to tenderness and then an acerbic insistence, she cut loose and reminded that crowd that the truth is like a lion. All you have to do is set it free. Or words to that effect. Let’s hope there’s a Ragas Live festival in 2023.

Halloween Month Singles, Vol. 1

Today is a big dump of really creepy stuff, but plenty of ridiculously funny video and some calmer, organically-rooted sounds to balance things out. Some songs, some visuals, a macabre video skit and a few short reads, a long album’s worth of entertainment. Click on artist or author names for their webpages, click on titles for audio, video or a quick read.

Soon-to-be-expat New Yorker Daisy Moses offers her usual spot-on, hilarious take on Lizzo using her expert lips and tongue on James Madison’s 200-year-old crystal flute. Too funny: 2-minute read with videos

Investigative journalist Joel Smalley discovers that he’s somehow received not just one but two Covid shots! The UK National Health system says he did but can’t explain how. Too funny. 28-second silent video

The Halloween video of the week comes to us via Mark Crispin Miller‘s weekly chronicle of the casualties of Operation Herod. Is it deadly to be in close contact with Charles In Charge? Scroll down to the third video,

Here’s ex-BlackRock hedge fund analyst Ed Dowd – the first to blow the whistle on the lethal Covid injection’s effect on all-cause mortality – on the Jerm Warfare podcast, via Sage Hana. This is one of her savagely spot-on videos, with a surprise ending

Here’s another funny one: Prof. Freedom’s Covid Religion video – a free download at Unbekoming (scroll down about 3/4 down the page). Plus a bonus chapter from Dr. Mark McDonald’s future classic 2020 broadside, United States of Fear.

Investigative journalist Etana Hecht suggests to a script-reading CDC contractor phone operator that she might want to turn whistleblower. The good stuff, with some VERY pregnant pauses, starts at about 6:50 in the audio of the phone call: scroll to the bottom of the page.

World Economic Forum infiltraitor Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand gets caught snorting blow on camera, thanks to Wittgenstein on Twitter via 2SG on Substack

Turfseer, the king of artsy protest anthems, has a not-so-secret second life as film composer and dramatist. Here’s his cruelly funny, cynical Twilight Zone parody, – Nightmare at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Will the rebel army make it to the underground bunkers where President Fauci is hiding out with Zuck and Gates? And whose side is that mysterious BLM protestor really on? There’s a surprise ending to this 21-minute video with a good original score

Reliably wide-ranging, inspiring freedom fighter, author and podcaster Bretigne Shaffer gives us a free pdf of her metaphorically savage short story Elixir of Fear.

Need a break from this relentless darkness? Crank up pianist/singer Maria Mendes‘ lavish, symphonic new big band jazz single Hermeto’s Fado for Maria, by the iconic Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal. That goofy synth break midway through will crack you up

The MammalsIf You Could Hear Me Now is a front-porch protest song for our time. “The money’s in charge of the black coal barge and there’s no more fish to be fishing.” Thanks to investigative journalism legend Celia Farber for passing this along.

Jude Roberts sings his elegantly snarling ragtime-flavored protest song Fall On Your Sword, Dr. Fauci, “the world’s biggest industry whore” who puts his greedy fingers into every fucking pie.

Americana songstress Monica Taylor delivers Rescues, a down-home red dirt Oklahoma shuffle with banjo and dobro,

Let’s wind this up with a shot of raw adrenaline: Lara Hope & the Ark-Tones ripping their way through their ghoulabilly hit I Drink to Your Health, with a searing Eddie Rion guitar solo

A Triumphant Return For Gorgeous Accordion and Accordion-Adjacent Sounds at Bryant Park

Last night at Bryant Park marked the very welcome return of the annual accordion festival there. At its pre-2020 peak, the festival ran weekly over a month or more beginning in late summer. This year’s installment mirrored the wild eclecticism and thrills that organizer Ariana Hellerman programmed there until the fateful events of 2020.

“Ultimately this is about love,” she told the crowd before the show, acknowledging New York’s debt to the immigrant communities who share her appreciation for portable keyed reed instruments. She’d begun programming the festival ten years ago after returning from Colombia, where she’d fallen in love with vallenato. “I’d never seen the accordion as revered as it was in Colombia. People would play air accordion in the streets.”

Heart of Afghanistan opened this year’s mainstage concert with a brooding anthem, frontman/harmonium player Ahmad Fanoos singing with a simmering intensity over his pianist son Elham Fanoos’ glittering, neoromantic cascades. It came across as part Bollywood, part Egyptian classical, mirroring the ensemble’s home country’s role as a focal point over centuries of cultural cross-pollination.

They followed with an elegantly syncopated, crescendoing take of a traditional Afghani New Years theme, Mehran Fanoos’ violin soaring distantly over Hamid Habibzada’s tablā. A dramatic, heroic minor-key theme fueled by lickety-split, meticulously ornamented piano and plaintively interwoven violin was next, the bandleader finally rising to an impassioned, melismatic peak.

The central Asian passion continued with an insistently syncopated, chromatically charged number, then the group resurrected the pre-Taliban Afghani national anthem as quasi art-rock with a shivery violin solo: it sure blows away the old drinking song that Francis Scott Key appropriated.

They took a detour into a jaunty ghazal, bouncing along with call-and-response and microtonal violin cadenzas, then a return to pouncing Middle Eastern-inflected modal fire, peaking out with an angst-fueled anthem. Music this gorgeous deserves to be vastly better known.

The Ukrainian Village Voices were next on the bill with an abbreviated set. From their home in the East Village, the rotating cast of this accordion-driven chorale have been New York’s nexus for traditional sounds from that imperiled part of the world.

The multi-generational, dual-gendered ensemble opened with a goofy, rousing, simple tune about harvesting buckwheat and making pancakes which the babushkas they’d met on their 2018 Ukrainian tour had asked them to sing over and over, as one of the group explained to the crowd.

A drinking song with the somber theme of “drink up because we may be gone tomorrow” was next – it came across as more of a work song. Make of that what you will.

They picked up the pace with a bristling, chromatic traditional warrior’s circle dance with violin from one of the chorus and closed with a pulsing party anthem sung from the point of view of a girl who doesn’t want to go home.

Balaklava Blues – a spinoff of fiery Canadian Balkan band the Lemon Bucket Orkestra – were up next. One of the trio’s two violinists – each of whom doubled on drums – built a long, suspenseful, shivery solo over an ominous low drone before accordionist Marichka Marczyk took to the mic with a plaintive, increasingly vocal, in Ukrainian. Her violinist husband Mark’s mask – mouth and nose open, most of the rest of his face obscured – spoke as much truth to power as any of the music on the bill.

Finally, at the end, Marichka switched to English: “Don’t tell me what to do” was the mantra. They followed by making glitchy trip-hop out of a rousing, defiantly stomping, whooping folk tune, like a slightly less thunderous Dakhabrakha. Marichka switched to piano and sang “Give me money or something” in a venomous turbo-folk-trip-hop anthem, with a searing violin solo from her husband.

As she told the crowd, the band’s raison d’etre is “To fight for freedom not only in Ukraine but for democracy all around the world.” Meanwhile, her brother is somewhere on the Ukrainian frontline, fighting off Russian retaliation to the NATO-provoked conflict. No wonder the piercing, angst-fueled art-rock lament that followed was about going home – and the prospect of never being able to. Remaining at the piano, Marichka continued with a slowly crescendoing, eerily chromatic tableau. They built a singalong with the crowd on a similarly macabre-tinged coda, the band’s second violinist echoing Marichka’s shivery, harrowing, imploring voice.

Since this happened to be Mexican independence day, a Selena cover band headlined. This pickup group of A-list New York musicians hail from the worlds of cumbia, Turkish music, klezmer and Americana, among other styles. Sure, it was a tr ip to see Michael Winograd – one of this era’s great klezmer clarinetists – step outside the box and take a turn on go-go sax. Unlike Selena, frontwoman Jenny Luna is a native Spanish speaker, and quickly revealed herself as an infinitely better and more seductive singer. The group were tighter than their debut before the lockdown at a crowded Brooklyn bar, but ultimately, the material wasn’t up to the level of the cast onstage. And that’s when it was time to call it a night.

The next concert at Bryant Park is tonight, Sept 17 at 7 PM with the the American Symphony Orchestra playing music by William Grant Still, Louise Talma and Mahler.

A Harrowing Solo Comeback Album and a Rare New York Show by Cult Icon Nina Nastasia

For about a decade beginning in the late 90s, songwriter Nina Nastasia earned a devoted following for her frequently haunting, painterly work. It’s hard to think of another artist who so perceptively captured the details in the darkness beneath the bustle in gritty New York neighborhoods which became artistic meccas before they were crushed in a blitzkrieg of gentrification.

The city’s decline mirrored Nastasia’s own. By 2010, her performing career had pretty much stalled. As Nastasia tells it, she and her longtime partner Kennan Gudjonsson sequestered themselves a tiny Chelsea apartment, caught up in a cycle of abuse and codependence. The day after Nastasia finally moved out, in January 2020, Gudjonsson killed himself.

In the first few months of the lockdown, Nastasia was able to process what by all accounts must have been inconceivable pain, and the result is a harrowing solo vinyl record, Riderless Horse, streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing what could be her first Williamsburg show in at least fifteen years at Union Pool on August 20 at 7 PM for $20

It’s been a dozen years since Nastasia released an album, but she’s emerged a stronger singer than ever. Meanwhile, her songwriting has taken a detour into Americana. With her usual black humor, she opens with the sound of a cork popping: this will not exactly be a party, but it’s impossible to turn away from.

The album’s first song is Just Stay in Bed, a spare Tex-Mex flavored tune in 6/8. Just when it sounds like it’s going to turn into a fond love song, Nastasia’s voice grows menacing. Clearly this was a dysfunctional relationship on both sides.

Her vocals rise to fiery accusatory levels over steady strumming in the second track, You Were So Mad, a stoic breakup ballad: “You set a blaze inside our house, you set a blaze and smoked us out.” This Is Love is a subdued heartland rock anthem, a chronicle of “taking turns to follow and lead into the dissonance.”

The narrative grows uglier over Nastasia’s enigmatic fingerpicking in Nature, a plainspoken portrait of violence, and how easy it is to become habituated to it. This dynamic will resonate intensely through the rest of the record.

Nastasia switches to waltz time for Lazy Road, although even in this bucolic calm, death is lurking nearby. She revisits that atmosphere a little later with the bluegrass-tinged Blind As Batsies.

“I keep you alive as best as I can do,” Nastasia sings imploringly, but ultimately “to choose life over illness and leave,” in another waltz, Ask Me. She switches back to a muted Americana sway in the ironically titled The Two of Us, which wouldn’t be out of place on an Amy Rigby record from the 90s:

The simmering rage returns in Go Away: “There’s only one way to for me to give you peace, for me to leave: bury me,” Nastasia taunts. She follows with The Roundabout, an anguished request to bury the conflict under a blanket of denial.

The next track, Trust is the closest thing here to the stark sparkle that permeates Nastasia’s iconic early work. She sings to a ghost, in waltz time again, in Afterwards: “Love is tiresome when you’re older…it makes me wonder about the years that came before, and all the things I must ignore.” As a portrait of a relationship unraveling with catastrophic consequences, this ranks with Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights. Time may judge this a classic – just like Nastasia’s earlier albums, particularly The Blackened Air, her most bleakly orchestral release, from 2001.

Hilary Hawke Brings Her Fresh, Original Oldtime-Flavored Banjo Tunes to the Lower East Side

Banjo player Hilary Hawke has been on the front lines of the New York Americana and oldtimey scenes since the early teens. But unlike a lot of hotshot pickers, she’s more about tunes and tunesmithing than blistering banjo breakdowns. She’s opening an excellent triplebill tomorrow night, July 26 at 7 PM at the downstairs room at the Rockwood. Acoustic songwriter Mali Obomsawin, frontwoman of politically-inspired Boston Americana group Lula Wiles and fearless gospel/blues/oldtimey songwriter Queen Esther follow on the bill. It’s not clear who’s playing when, but everybody on the bill is worth hearing. Cover is $15.

Hawke’s new album LilyGild is streaming at Bandcamp. True to the theme of the album, which is “why overdo it,” more or less, Hawke chooses her spots throughout a mix of seven instrumental and a classic folk song,  joined by Reed Stutz on guitar. Her songs are fresh and translucent, but she loves unexpected tempo shifts and syncopation. She also gets a pretty amazing amount of resonance out of her axe, squeezing every millisecond of sustain out of the strings.

The first track is Three Snakes, a catchy but rhythmically labyrinthine dance tune with a goofy little interlude that’s too good to spoil. Once in awhile, Stutz will pick his way up with a little bassline to follow Hawke’s incisively syncopated picking.

Granddad’s Favorite//Fort Smith Breakdown, a diptych, has a couple of layers of guitar mingling with Hawke’s spacious picking, then the two go doublespeed on the way out. Crossing the River has a moody, unsettled undercurrent in contrast with Stutz’s steady forward drive. Then Hawke and Stutz move to the mic for a rustically waltzing version of Jack of Diamonds.

Her spiky phrases contrast with sleek, slithery turnaruonds in the aptly titled Happy Hollow. Beehive’s Chorus is the most modern-sounding number here: it could be a brief, early Jayme Stone tune. Hawke and Stutz wind up the album with the title track, packed with deft, wide-angle soul chords, slides and hammer-ons. Who needs to gild the lily when you have music like this.

What’s more, Hawke mentions on the Bandcamp page that these instrumentals are part of a collection that also includes a series of darker, cinematic pieces for electronic keys and banjo. Hopefully someday we’ll get to hear those too.

Elegantly Exhilarating Klezmer Band Mames Babegenush Make a Welcome Return to Manhattan

Danish klezmer band Mames Babegenush made New York music history a couple of years ago for being part of what appears to have been the final installment of Golden Fest, the annual mega-concert of Balkan and Balkan-adjacent music that ran uninterrupted for more than three decades and was arguably the most exhilarating annual New York music event. The previous weekend, the band had played a marathon series of shows, from the Lower East Side to Curry Hill, chronicled in part here after a wild night at the Carlton Arms Hotel.

For those who can’t get enough of bracing minor keys and sizzling solos, Mames Babegenush are on the road for their “COVID Can’t Keep Klezmer Down” tour, with a gig at Drom on July 20 at 8 PM; you can get in for $20 in advance. And an advance listen to two new tunes the band have recently recorded proves this irrepressible bunch of party animal virtuosos are no worse for the layoff during the global totalitarian takeover. The first song, Elvermose Cocek reminds how much fun they can have with tunes from outside the klezmer demimonce, in this case a pouncing Balkan dance with a gorgeous, soaring solo from clarinetist Emil Goldschmidt.

The second is Night Flight, a gorgeous nocturne which their drummer Morten Aero opens with a mysterious cimbalom solo before bassist Andreas Mollerhoj introduces a tiptoeing pulse, setting the stage for a deep-sky solo from flugelhorn player Bo Rande. That’s the loud and soft of what you can expect from a band whose nine-album output of originals and imaginative takes on klezmer classics includes one titled Klezmer Killed the Radio Star.

Klezmer Music For a Chinatown Street Fair and the Horror Show in Canada

One of New York’s most unusual and enjoyable street festivals is happening today in Chinatown. That neighborhood doesn’t have many, because pretty much every day is a street fair down there. This one is on Eldridge between Division and Canal, outside the Eldridge Street Synagogue. The music starts at noon with iconic klezmer trumpeter  Frank London‘s Klezmer Brass All Stars, followed by the  Klezmographers with violinist Eleonore Biezunski and tsimbl player Pete Rushefsky, and then flutist Chen Tao and his Melody of the Dragon  Chinese traditional ensemble playing lively, verdant pentatonic folk songs. This blog was in the house (or more accurately. under the eaves across the street) to catch their set here four years ago and it was a lot of fun.

The Klezmographers, who specialize in obscure Ukrainian klezmer repertoire, are also fun. The last time anyone from this blog was at one of Rushefsky’s shows, it was at a gig at the now-discontinued Friday night concert series at the American Folk Art Museum back in 2014. Memory is a little hazy on whether it was an actual Klezmographers gig, or Rushefsky with his flutist wife: that night turned out to be a pretty wild one.

Rushefsky put out a handful of records back in the zeros with his Ternkova Ensemble. The most recent album he appears on is Toronto group KlezFactor‘s new Songs From a Pandemic Winter, streaming at Bandcamp.

The first song is Mardi Gras Fever Dream, with Mike Anklewicz’s soaring tenor sax, Jarek Dabrowski’s chicken-scratch guitar, Paul Georgiou’s clip-clop hand drum and Ali Berkok’s roller-rink organ fueling a playfully surreal mashup of Balkan cumbia, New Orleans second-line jazz and Eastern European Jewish folk music.

Rushefsky’s somberly rippling tsimbl opens Lake Michigan Klezmer Fantasy, Anklewicz switching to clarinet alongside Kousha Nakhaei’s violin for this wistful theme: Canadians have had an awful lot to mourn lately. Third Wave Lockdown opens with a twisted sample of Fidel Jr. reading from his World Economic Forum handler Chrystia Freedland’s script. Then Graham Smith’s snappy bass kicks in, Anklewicz launches into a peppy clarinet tune, and Jarek Dabrowski channels David Gilmour at his most majestic. Just like the truckers, these guys aren’t going to let fascism get them down!

Nakhaei plays what sounds like a stark chinese erhu in the polyrhythmic Winter’s Groove, as the band shift from cumbia to a bit of what sounds like a bulgar dance, to dub reggae. Singer Melanie Gall brings somberness but also a soaring, hopeful vibe to a final waltz, Oyfn Veg Shteyt a Boym, a spare, vivid arrangement of a chilling parable of exile and improbable escape. In 2022, this song couldn’t be more relevant. May we all fare better than that withered tree in the Yiddish lyrics.

Mariachi Real de Mexico Bring Their Flair and Grandeur to Queens on the 22nd

It was July of 2019, and Mariachi Real de Mexico were playing an outdoor show on the east side steps to the plaza at Lincoln Center. A big crowd grew, to the point that the group were completely surrounded. New York’s largest and lushest mariachi band didn’t care: that hot summer day, almost three years ago, they seemed to be completely in their element. These days, you will assuredly not get the chance to stand that close to the band, or any band, at Lincoln Center, but you can do that on June 22 at 6 PM when they play Highland Park in Ridgewood. Take the J to Crescent St., enter at Warwick and Jamaica Ave. and follow the sound.

Singer and bandleader Ramon Ponce Jr. – son of the man who founded the group in the early 90s – projects with an expressive, dramatic voice. He’s got a powerful falsetto and will use circular breathing to wow the crowd by sustaining a single note for a solid thirty seconds. You can see that reaction in an old clip of La Malagueña from 2013.

The Lincoln Center show featured an unusually large lineup, even for this crew: there were over a dozen members, from the graceful bajo sexto and guitarron anchoring the music’s elegant sway and the occasional bouncy dance tune, to the brass and strings which give the group a symphonic sweep. The show was a mix of old standards, ranchera ballads and a couple of originals. At one point, they pulled out the old trick of speeding up one of their instrumentals to doublespeed and beyond, to where they were right back at the original tempo.

There isn’t much Mariachi Real de Mexico online, but the handful of clips up at their youtube channel will give you a good idea of their many flavors. An old clip of El Pastor is a prime example of how their brass cuts through over the strings and guitars. If the sequence of the youtube playlist is any indication, they’re more proud of the time they backed Placido Domingo singing El Rey – with the crowd joining in vociferously, just like at the Lincoln Center show – than they are of playing the theme song to the tv show Narcos. They’ve also played live with Los Tigres Del Norte – check the wistfully lavish version of Hermoso Cariño.

For the way they play a shapeshifting waltz, watch their take of La Sinaloense. There’s only one audio clip up at their webpage, but it’s choice: Realeza, a swaying, lushly orchestrated, Andalucian-flavored anthem. They sing in Spanish but explain a lot of the material in English if it seems the crowd need some context. Either way, you don’t have to speak the language to get swept up in the drama. This could be the soundtrack to your personal novela on the 22nd in Queens.

A Lustrous Solo Album From Dobro Stylist Abbie Gardner

Abbie Gardner is one of the most distinctive dobro players in  Americana. She has a seemingly effortless grace and otherworldly precision on an instrument that often bedevils other acoustic guitarslingers. Despite her vaunted technique, she plays with a remarkable economy of notes. She may be best known as a member of well-loved harmony trio Red Molly. but she had fearsome chops before she joined that band. Her new solo album DobroSinger is streaming at Bandcamp

As with her other solo records, almost all the tunes are originals. The opening number, Down the Mountain is a steady coal-mining blues. Gardner’s liquid chords contrast with her stiletto-articulate fingerpicking and slithery slide lines. She sings in an expressive down-home delivery equally informed by oldschool gospel, blues and front-porch folk music.

The second track, Only All the Time is more enigmatic, a stripped-down throwback to the alt-country sounds of the 90s. Gardner slows down for See You Again, part sophisticated blues ballad, part country waltz, with a spare, suspenseful solo on the way out. Born in the City has more of Gardner’s signature, silken legato: the gist of the song is that urban people stick together just as tightly as country folks do.

Wouldn’t it be kind of cool if the next song, Three Quarter Time was in, say, 7/8? It actually isn’t: it’s in 6/8! The intimate arrangement is an artful approach to what’s essentially a vintage Memphis-style soul ballad. Gardner digs in hard for a wicked but nuanced vibrato for a starkly original, grim take of Cypress Tree Blues. Then she flips the script with the wryly aphoristic Too Many Kisses, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Amy Allison songbook.

The brisk, bouncily swinging Honky Tonk Song is the one number here where an overdubbed rhythm track would have come in handy: the absence of a band isn’t an issue anywhere else. Gardner interrupts the playful mood for the stark, understatedly harrowing memoir When We Were Kids: in a quiet way, it’s the most stunning song on the album.

Gardner closes the record with a couple of covers. The first one is a spacious, pouncing version of Those Memories of You, a minor hit for Pam Tillis in the mid-80s. And Gardner reinvents the proto-Lynchian Jo Stafford hit You Belong to Me with a distant, uneasily dreamy feel. If you play guitar, there’s plenty of inspiration here for you to take your chops to the next level. If you don’t, it’s a characteristically sharp, smart Americana record.