New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: jam band

Blue Oyster Cult on the Highway Out of Hell

The Man and the Boy pushed the shopping cart slowly down the empty Road. Inside, under the two solar panels the Man had found at an abandoned lumber yard, were their clothes and a bunch of canned goods. It was all they had room for. He’d hooked up the panels to his phone, not because there was any phone service anymore, or anyone he knew to call if he could, but for the music on it. He’d found a cable splitter in the burnt-out rubble of a phone store so that each could listen with both ears. The Man didn’t often do that: he had to listen for other people, to be ready on a second’s notice to get off the Road and cover up.

“What does this remind you of?” the Man asked the Boy, hopefully. The song that was playing was This Ain’t the Summer of Love, from the album Blue Oyster Cult Live at Rock of Ages Festival, July 30th 2016. You could stream it at Spotify before the lockdowners had shut that service down. And then the whole web went down. And then most of the world. The Man and the Boy hadn’t seen people in a month.

“The verse sounds like Steve Wynn. The chorus sounds like the Stones,” the Boy replied.

He’d learned well!

The Man cursed himself for not loading more old favorites onto the phone: almost everything was new, or relatively new, from since the time he’d bought it. All the same, he’d tried to construct a history of music from the albums and tracks he had. When the two first hit the Road, he’d made sure to give the Boy a lesson every day. Too bad there wasn’t any Bach organ music. The Boy had suffered in silence through the St. Matthew Passion and the Klavierubung on piano. But he seemed to dig Rachmaninoff, and Shostakovich, especially the String Quartet No. 8 which the Man had forgotten was on the phone. Played by an obscure quartet, but still plenty chilling.

Trouble was, there was hardly any hip-hop, no country, not much blues, and trying to interest the Boy in jazz turned out to be a lost cause.

The Boy liked metal.

Good thing there was plenty of that, starting with a weird bunch of bands playing Sabbath covers and a solid Metallica mix. So far they’d burned through Q5, Black Swan, Wovenhand, Heavy Temple, Solace and Firebreather, and they were on BOC now.

The Man had left all his records, including the first ten BOC albums, behind at the house, and he resolved to fix that after they got off the Road, further south where it was warmer. He’d find another house, hopefully with no decaying corpses in it, another abandoned Home Depot, get some more panels, and rig up a real stereo. And build a still, and find a truck with a stick shift that would start if you pushed it fast enough. And maybe someday they’d go back to the old house, running on alcohol since all of the gas stations were empty now, and collect all the vinyl.

That was down the Road, though. Right now they had to get south enough to where they wouldn’t freeze to death if it snowed. That would take a couple of months, and it was already September.

“What’s up with the can of beer?” the Boy wanted to know. The song was The Golden Age of Leather.

“That’s a toast. And something for the band to engage the crowd with. You remember when we went to see Metallica, how people would raise their lighters? Same deal but with beer.”

“I don’t like this,” the Boy told the Man. “They play the same thing over and over again.”

The Man didn’t tell the Boy how people who were high when they heard this liked it that way. “Wait til you hear the original version, when we get situated and get all my vinyl down with us.”

“What song does this sound like?” the Boy wanted to know. In an off-key falsetto, he sang a famous 60s pop riff: “I love the ‘something, something’ she wears.”

“That’s the Beach Boys,” the Man replied. “You like the Beach Boys?” he asked, quizzically.

“I hate the Beach Boys. The Beach Girls,” the Boy sneered.

The Man was hopeful. The Boy rarely spoke anymore. Any sign of engagement with the world was a good thing. Everything had been looking up until his mother had taken the vaccine, and six months later, the immune deficiency had reared its ugly, inevitable head, and then she was dead.

As the Man and the Boy reached a hill, the blackened shell of a hospital stood stark against the sky, over the trees. First the lockdowners had vaccinated the doctors and the nurses to kill them off so they could use the hospitals as death camps. Because the National Guard had rebelled and refused to vaccinate people, the Australians had been called in. The lockdowners had shut down the food industry there, so the only way an Australian could eat was to join Trace and Track, or the vaccine army and go to the UK or the US. That’s when the Resistance started burning hospitals and liberating everyone who’d been locked up there, accused of carrying the virus. But it was too late. They’d all been vaccinated, at gunpoint, and they died off fast.

Apppropriately enough, the song that was playing was Burning For You. “You like this one?” the Man asked the Boy.

“It’s ok. What’s a b-side?”

“It’s the flip side of a single. You remember those 45 records your mom had? You know, the ones with the big hole in the middle? Those are singles. The b-side is the song on the other side. It’s not usually as good as the one on the a-side.” The Man kicked himself. Talking about his dead wife was something they’d come to avoid. He hoped the Boy wouldn’t go back into his shell.

“You wait til you hear the album version. Killer guitar solo. That’s Buck Dharma. The rest of the band here is mostly a bunch of replacements, but he’s one of the original guys. Him and the singer. Eric Bloom,” he explained.

And silently resolved to turn the Boy on to the album version of OD’d on Life Itself, too. That was the next song. This version didn’t have that insane peak, where the lead guitar comes spiraling out of the bridge. Here it was haphazard, jagged, not bad, but not something that would rip your face off the first time you heard it.

The Road
Oh, the unwindingness of it all
As if from Barraclough to the pubs of Ulster
A metaphor, yea
A simile
A conundrum

Whoah, stop right there.

Where did that awful Irish poetry come from? Nix that.

Now where were we?

The band were five tracks into their set by now and the song was a relatively new one, Harvest Moon. A backbeat tune. The Boy hummed along with the riff to All Along the Watchtower, then played air guitar when the twin solo kicked in. This kid had good ears, the Man reminded himself.

ME262 was the next song. The Man didn’t say anything about how it was on the slow side, or how the cynicism had been reduced to phony barrelhouse piano and doot-doot backing vocals. Just wait til you hear the original, he promised the Boy, silently.

The Boy did air guitar again for Buck’s Boogie. “It’s kind of like ZZ Top, huh?” he asked.

“Blue Oyster Cult blows away anything ZZ Top ever did,” the Man snorted. Still, this had gotten the kid’s attention. Good thing there was a bunch of BOC on the phone.

The Boy scrunched up his face and bobbed his head for Lips in the Hills. A deep cut with the creepy feel of the band’s classic 70s era, the Man thought. Forty-five years after they started, still going strong. If only I last that long.

Then Came the Last Days of May was next. About halfway through the first verse, a phone rang. The man whipped off his headphones. “Did you hear that? he asked the Boy.

“Yeah,” the Boy said, suddenly energized. “I didn’t think there was phone service anymore.”

The Man picked up the line. No signal. He restarted the song, and sure enough, there was a ringtone on it. Somebody in the band had forgotten to turn his phone off before he went onstage.

The two fell silent, through a weird, spacy Richie Castellano synth solo and the point where drummer Jules Radino and bassist Danny Miranda took the song doublespeed as they always did. The end of the guitar solo, the band really cooking by now, jarred the two road warriors out of their funk.

“Cool solo,” the Boy remarked. “Is this an old song?”

“Really old,” the Man replied. “First album. They always played it this way, real fast, when I used to go see them.”

“Do you think there will ever be concerts again?” the Boy asked.

“Oh yeah,” the Man responded, projecting as much casual confidence as he could. “As soon as we meet other people…”

“…Who aren’t cannibals,” the Boy interrupted.

“Yeah, who aren’t cannibals,” the Man concurred, picturing the headless infant cooked over a spit that they’d stumbled over a couple of weeks before. That was why they had to be careful, to keep one ear on the music and the other on the Road.

On their earbuds, the band had launched into Godzilla. It wasn’t that heavy, the Man told himself; the Boy picked up on the Led Zep quote. The apple obviously hadn’t fallen very far.

Don’t Fear the Reaper was the last song, a long, surprisingly fresh version. “Are you afraid of dying?” the Boy asked the Man.

“Nah,” the Man replied, hoping the blitheless in his voice would rub off. “But we aren’t going to die. We’re going to get off this Road and pick up where we left off. The old normal. No New Abnormal, right?”

“No New Abnormal, yeah,” the Boy replied. On the Boy’s lips, the Man glimpsed a flicker of a smile.

[Apologies to Cormac McCarthy, whose book would have been a lot better without all the extraneous attempts at poetry.]

A Historic, Hard-Hitting New Album From the Radam Schwartz Organ Big Band

The new album by the Radam Schwartz Organ Big Band, Message From Groove and GW – streaming at Spotify – is the first-ever big band jazz release where the organist plays all the basslines. Dr. Lonnie Smith does that with his Octet, but they’re only eight guys in a world of even larger sounds. Historically, there have been very few big bands with an organ to begin with: Jimmy Smith with Oliver Nelson, and the mighty Eight Cylinder Bigband, to name a couple.

Here, Schwartz decides to walk the lows briskly all by himself, joined by the Abel Mireles’ Jazz Exchange Orchestra in a mix of imaginatively rearranged covers and originals. This isn’t just esoterica for B3 diehards: this is a rare example of gritty gutbucket organ jazz beefed up with bright, hefty horn harmonies, rather than a big band that happens to have an organ as a solo instrument.

Schwarz takes considerable inspiration from Richard “Groove” Holmes’ work with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, notably two cuts on their album where Holmes took over the basslines. Schwartz opens his record with an original, Trouble Just Won’t Go Away, a brisk, catchy swing tune with punchy solos from throughout the group.

The band remake Coltrane’s Blues Minor with an ominous bluster anchored by the low brass, alto saxophonist Danny Raycraft’s solo setting up a searing, cascading one from the bandleader. The Aretha Franklin hit Ain’t No Way gets reinvented as a stampede with jaunty solos from trumpeter Ted Chubb, tenor saxophonist Gene Ghee and guitarist Charlie Sigler.

Dig You Like Crazy, another Schwartz original, has bustling, vintage Basie-style horns, with terse solos from Chubb, saxophonist Anthony Ware and then the organ. What to Do, a catchy Mireles tune, is more of an early 60s-style postbop number turbocharged with brass and organ, drummer David F. Gibson raising the energy very subtly at the end.

They do the Isley Bros.’ Between the Sheets as muted, pillowy funk, with slit-eyed solos from Sigler and Ware. Baritone saxophonist Ben Kovacs, trumpeter Ben Hankle and trombonist Andrae Murchison smoke and sputter and soar in Schwartz’s tightly clustering, bluesy title track.

Trombonist Peter Lin’s moodily shifting, latin-tinged A Path to Understanding features an ebullient solo from trumpeter Lee Hogans handing off to the composer’s lowdown turn out front, then the bandleader’s spirals and rapidfire triplets.

Schwartz charges into his epically swaying arrangement of the Mingus classic Work Song, Hankle contributing a hauntingly rustic muted solo echoed by Murchison, Ware and then the organ taking the energy to redline. Likewise, the brass – which also includes trumpeter James Cage – kick in hard. It’s the album’s big stunner. They wind up the record with a benedictory composition by Bach. Leave it to an organist to go for baroque at the end.

A Creepy, Trippy Maxi-Single For a Creepy Year From Scorpio 70

“People are eating people now,” drummer Guy Bibi observes about ten minutes into Scorpio 70’s new “horror motorik spacerock” soundscape, Space Madness, streaming at Bandcamp.

From a distance, it reminds of the most vast segments of 17 Pygmies’ classic album Celestina, one of the most haunting outer space psychedelic albums ever made.

This one takes a long time to get going. Keyboardist Yair Etziony sets the stage with his layers of blips and twisted radio transmissions. Eventually guitarist Barry Berko joins the picture, sparely and warily over the dirgelike wave motion that rises behind him. Bassist Benjamin Esterlis finally introduces a slow dub reggae pulse before the music decays to a slowly turning vortex again. 

The Kolotov Mocktails Play Dynamic, Interesting, Subtly Amusing Cross-Genre Instrumentals

As you would imagine, instrumental jamband the Kolotov Mocktails have a sense of humor. The mocktail part of the band might be a characteristically wry admission of how many styles and ideas they appropriate; and yet, they are absolutely unique. Their songs tend to be upbeat, the solos are purposeful and the tunes are catchy. Their latest album Ivy Hall is streaming at Spotify.

They open with Between the Ranges, a lively Grateful Dead-style instrumental by drummer Rob McKendrick. Violinist George Mason’s wildly spiraling solo is a highlight; the southern rock quotes at the end are predictably amusing.

Mason and pedal steel player Dave Easley take centerstage in Dancing on the Wall, McKendrick and bassist John Lang giving it a tight jazz waltz beat. Lang contributes Mr. Pants Pants, which could be the Alan Parsons Project with a more organic groove, guest Allan Walters’ Scottish smallpipes mingling with the layers of keys.

Easley contributes A Visit to the Zoo: with his percussive hammer-ons and ambiguously lingering lines, along with Mason’s long, moody solo, this seems to reflect the inhabitants’ unease rather than a joyous family outing. The shift toward a marching raga, with Mason on guitar sitar, makes for an unexpected coda.

The group shift back toward newgrass rock with Acoustic Alchemy, a brisk number in an Old Crow Medicine Show vein. Fueled by Lang’s strutting, circling bassline, Coming to an Alley Near You is a bizarrely entertaining mashup of Jean-Luc Ponty, Kraftwerk and maybe Dave Tronzo in a particularly terse moment. Likewise, imagine Ponty trying his hand at Meters funk in, say, 1974 – with a pedal steel – and you get The Fuzz.

Mason and Easley trade punchy riffs in Raw Eel Sheets, a similarly mind-warping blend of Django Reinhardt and New Orleans funk. The Crack of Noon features Walters on the pipes again: it could be a Greer Coppins tune, or the Dead taking a stab at a highlands air. The band segue from there to close the record with Time Ebbing: the guitar/violin duel is pure Terrapin Station. If you smell something skunky and smoky coming from under your neighbor’s door, it might be this album.

Horsehunter’s Crushingly Psychedelic Set at Last Year’s Day of Doom Festival Immortalized on a New Live Album

In a stroke of genius, the organizers of the Day of Doom Festival at St. Vitus in Brooklyn last year decided to record it. They’re now releasing the recordings; the first was a wickedly psychedelic set by Summoner. The latest one in the series is Horsehunter’s Day of Doom Live, streaming at Bandcamp. These albums’ sound quality is consistently excellent, no surprise considering the venue’s tremendous PA system.

As these records remind, not all the bands at the festival were straight-up doom metal: the loosely connecting thread was dark psychedelia. Horsehunter have throat-shredding vocals and build immersive, dynamically shifting atmospheres that brings to mind early 80s no wave bands like the Ex and the dreampop of My Bloody Valentine as much as any kind of metal. For a band who can be dangerously loud, they’re sometimes shockingly quiet.

There are only four tracks here: only their first number, Witchery, is less than ten minutes long. They open that one with feedback shrieking from guitarists’ Michael Harutyunyan and Dan Harris’ Flying V and Les Paul, bassist Himi Stringer and drummer Nick Cron building to a hypnotic, enveloping gallop and then a series of bludgeoningly tricky rhythms.

Bring Out Yer Dead, the first of the epics, shifts from a spare, funereal, circling riff to a long series of variations on gritty, thick cinderblock chords. They bring it full circle, hauntingly.

Nuclear Rapture has allusive Sabbath chromatics over an undulating mathrock-tinged sway, an unexpectedly minimalist, low-key funeral march midway through, a tantalizingly brief thicket of machete tremolo-picking and finally a big payoff with a completely haphazard guitar solo.

Decaying for a bit to more sheets of feedback, they segue from there into a practically seventeen-minute version of Stoned to Death to close the set. This is where the doom wafts in, from a syncopated Electric Funeral riff, to a spine-pounding doublespeed break, crazed exchanges of guitar shredding and tarpit atmospherics.

This blog has been agitating for years for artists to release more live albums, considering that it’s infinitely cheaper to record a show than rent studio time. Who else had the presence of mind to record a live set at St. Vitus, or any other good metal venue? Let’s hear it.

Wild, Surreal, Psychedelic Keyboard Mashups From Brian Charette

The latest artist to defiy the odds and put the grim early days of the lockdown to good use is Brian Charette, arguably the most cutting-edge organist in jazz. As you will see on his new solo album, Like the Sun – streaming at his music page – he plays a whole slew of other styles. Challenging himself to compose and improvise against a wild bunch of rhythmic loops in all sorts of weird time signatures, he pulled together one of his most entertaining records. This one’s definitely the most surreal, psychedelic and playful of all of them – and he has made a lot.

Basically, this is a guy alone in his man cave mashing up sounds as diverse as twinkly Hollywood Hills boudoir soul, squiggly dancefloor jams, P-Funk stoner interludes, Alan Parsons Project sine-wave vamps and New Orleans marches, most of them ultimately under the rubric of organ jazz.

At the heart of the opening track, 15 Minutes of Fame lies a catchy gutbucket Hammond organ riff and variations…in this case surrounded by all sorts of warpy textures and strange, interwoven rhythms. Time Piece, the second track, could be a synthy late 70s ELO miniature set to a shuffly drum machine loop, with a rapidfire B3 crescendo.

Slasher is not a horror theme but a reference to a chord with an unusual bass note – as Charette says in his priceless liner notes, “If they can get along, why can’t we?” This one’s basically a soul song without words with some tricky changes.

Honeymoon Phase could be a balmy Earth Wind and Fire ballad, Charette’s layers of keys taking the place of the brass. He builds the album’s title track around an Arabic vocal sample, with all sorts of wry touches surrounding a spacy, catchy theme and variations in 5/8 time.

Mela’s Cha Cha – inspired by Charette’s wife, the electrifyingly multistylistic singer Melanie Scholtz – is what might have happened if George Clinton, Larry Young and Ruben Blades were all in the same room together circa 1983. Three Lights has a warmly exploratory groove over a catchy bassline and a hypnotic syndrum beat.

Break Tune is a rare opportunity to hear Charette play guitar, adding a little Muscle Shoals flavor to this gospel-tinged, Spike Lee-influenced mashup. You might not expect a melody ripped “from a punchy synth brass preset on the Korg Minilogue,” as Charette puts it, or changes influenced by the great Nashville pianist Floyd Cramer in an organ jazz tune, but that’s what Charette is up to in From Like to Love.

Creole is a more traditional number, with a New Orleans-inflected groove and a handful of devious Joni Mitchell quotes. 7th St. Busker, inspired by a cellist playing on the street in the West Village, follows in the same vein but with a strange vocal sample underneath the good-natured, reflective organ solo.

Robot Heart would make a solid hip-hop backing track; Charette closes the record with 57 Chevy, a funky shout-out to Dr. Lonnie Smith, who goes back to that era.

A Trippy, Labyrinthine New Album From Popular Psychedelic Rockers Theusaisamonster

Theusaisamonster are well established in the world of newschool psychedelic rock. Until we can manage to get our world back to normal and enjoy them live, we have their latest album Amikwag – streaming at Bandcamp – to trip out with.

Lyrics and vocals are not their thing, but their upbeat, crazyquilt songs and long trails of catchy melody over strange time signatures will keep you entranced. The labyrinthine opening track, Permaculture’s Promise has tricky tempos and more than a hint of bracing Middle Eastern chromatics over math-y tempos, like a mashup of Love Camp 7, peak-era 70s King Crimson and the Grateful Dead. Sounds incongruous, but it works.

With its skittishly syncopated changes and alternately burning and jangly layers of guitar, the second track, Rapido Amigo, is much the same minus the King Crimson and the chromatics. Loopy Terry Riley-ish organ swirls and leaps over weird, similarly leaping rhythms in 8 Years Old, a dead ringer for Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. The band keep that vibe going throughout Verbs, an encouragement to use an economy of words. There’s considerable irony voicing that opinion in a song more than eight minutes long, the group jamming it out with layers of keys, tumbling drums, fuzzy bass and a stomping guitar-fueled peak at the end.

The only slightly shorter Side of the Road begins noisily, then the band channel Genesis and the Dead with uneasy hints of King Gizzard. We Are Not Alone, a goofy conversation between aliens, has the closest thing to a straight-up guitar drive here.

The band wind up the album with its trippiest number, Nothing and Everything, a wryly suspenseful, distantly classically-tinged intro morphing into a hypnotic Obscured by Clouds-era Pink Floyd march, then more Genesis. These guys’ record collections must be amazing. And as much fun as these songs are, what would be even better would be to see the band kick them around onstage.

Darkly Glistening, Blissfully Tuneful Improvisation From Pianist Cat Toren’s Human Kind

Pianist Cat Toren’s new album Scintillating Beauty – streaming at Bandcamp – references a Martin Luther King quote about what the world would be like if we were able to conquer racism and achieve true equality. But the title is just as apt a description of the music. Toren has always been one of the most reliably melodic improvisers in the New York creative music scene, and her group Human Kind achieve a similarly high standard of tunefulness here. Jazz these days seldom sounds so effortlessly symphonic.

The epic opening cut is Radiance in Veils, sax player Xavier del Castillo introducing a balmy, Indian-tinged nocturnal theme immediately echoed by oudist Yoshie Fruchter, bassist Jake Leckie and drummer Matt Honor as Toren glistens and ripples spaciously in the upper registers behind them. The bandleader glides into Middle Eastern-tinged chromatics and then pounces hard as the bass and drums develop an elegant syncopation, del Castillo and Fruchter weaving a similar gravitas. Shuddering sax and torrential piano fuel a couple of big crescendos, Toren and Leckie team up for a tersely dancing passage and Fruchter pulls uneasily away from a broodingly emphatic center. The great Lebanese-born pianist Tarek Yamani comes to mind.

The lush, rapturous Middle Eastern ambience continues in Garment of Destiny, from the flourishes of Toren’s solo intro, through Fruchter’s hypnotic oud solo over reflecting-pool piano chords. Del Castillo adds nocturnal ambience and then agitation matching the murk rising behind him.

Ignus Fatuus is a moody midtempo swing number, Toren doing a more allusively chromatic take on Errol Garner, del Castillo taking his most jaggedly intense, spine-tingling solo here. Toren switches to funeral-parlor organ to open the closing diptych, Rising Phoenix, Fruchter leading the band into a reflective calm spiced with Toren’s many bells and rattles. Her switch to the piano signals an increasingly bustling return from dreamland, del Castillo a confidently bluesy light in the darkness. The second part has a bittersweet, rather stern soul-infused sway, Honor and the rest of the band finally seizing the chance to cut loose. In Toren’s view, we all make it to the mountaintop. This is one of the best and most memorable jazz albums of the year.

Ferociously Lyrical, Amazingly Psychedelic, Eclectic Sounds From the Free Radicals

Fearlessly political Houston-based collective the Free Radicals have a brilliant, insightful new album, White Power Outage Volume 1 out and streaming at Bandcamp. Over catchy, psychedelically arranged organic grooves that range from hard funk, to roots reggae, to dub and even surf music, a vast cast of over fifty artists speak truth to power with witheringly insightful lyricism. This album is like a great musical podcast about the state of the world right at the first strike of the lockdown: over and over again, this crew breaks down the big picture in ways that make sense, especially considering what’s happened since March 16 here in New York and even earlier in Wuhan.

Not surprisingly, it took more than a year to pull together all 23 tracks here. Hip-hop artist Obidike Kamau kicks it off over with America Is a Lie, over a slinky, live funk groove with wah guitar:

I know how much this hurts your feelings
It’s not because you strive for justice, but I’ve heard this bullshit all my life
The propaganda you spit, the rose-colored myths you declare
…I guess it goes back to your gangster beginnings
Your genocidal belief in unhappy endings
…I know a thief appreciates possession being nine tenths of the law
And you’re a liar
I ain’t in fear, your reign is temporary
I see it leaving here

EQuality delivers another broadside so good all 58 seconds of it are worth reprinting:

If multiple black men are found dead in the apartment of a millionaire tied to the Democratic Party named Ed Buck, and nobody investigates his role in the incident, does it make a sound?
Bartender I’ll take another round
But pouring kool-aid in a wine glass don’t make it merlot
A cat having kittens in the oven don’t make them biscuits
Well I’ll be George Washington Carver selling peanuts to the peanut gallery at the art gallery See what’s on the walls, pictures of poverty and pain
‘Cause that’s what sells n____s to negros
Some inverse tradeoff
Paid off the most popular rapper so the house can run the field n____s
Capitalism and Christ cut a deal in the back of the Vatican
As the Pope pours another round of scotch
Excuse my cynicism
The gospel according to a con

“Maybe we just catch a case and disappear without a trace,” says rapper Nosaprise over the loopy psychedelic backdrop of Cash Out — and he’s not talking about COVID.

“Beware the boogieman, terror threats scaring us out of psychological reason,” D-Ology warns in Look at That, a far-reaching catalog of threats from police brutality to transhumanism.

The Great Australian Heist, featuring hip-hop lyricist Bryte from down under, reminds how the slave trade devastated his country’s indigenous population…and how that resonates today in, as just one example, the way fracking is destroying the country’s already scarce water supply. He doesn’t get into the fascist lockdown situation there, the most repressive clampdown on human rights outside of China and Israel right now.

Swatara Olushola takes over the mic in Racist Car No Driver, revealing a sinister white supremacist motivation behind driverless cars: their “garbage in, garbage out” technology was designed not to recognize the presence of black people in the street. Earlier in the record she contributes another rocksteady-tinged protest song that also pokes savage fun at technosupremacists.

The musicians here turn out to be a phenomenal roots reggae band. The best of many of the reggae tunes here are the intricately arranged Daughter of Diana, with Kam Franklin on vocals, and Student Debt Dub, an Ethiopiques number fueled by bass and brass. Yet the best straight-up instrumental on the album is the sarcastically titled Deepwater Horizon, a slinky, reverbtoned minor-key surf rock instrumental – it’s really cool how the bass gets to carry the melody for a verse.

Later on the band careen into punk klezmer for a bit, then toward the end of the record Matt Kelly contributes Piece of the Rock, a Celtic/punkgrass mashup sung from the point of view of a greedy oligarch. “Come take a hit of my rock,” he snarls.

Highlights among the many other tracks here also include also fiery, politically charged reggaeton from Karina Nistal; Rashard’s More Power, a political update on vintage James Brown spiced with vibraphone and horns; and Genesis Blu & Jasmine Christine’s Chariot Rock, a conscious hip-hop reinvention of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot over dubby, Ethiopian-tinged loops. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2020 page here at the end of the month.

Smart, Diverse, Lyrical Acoustic Americana From the Steep Canyon Rangers

The Steep Canyon Rangers first exploded onto the Americana scene in the zeros as a pretty straight-up bluegrass band, but in the years since then they’ve become a lot more diverse. They’re just as informed by oldschool honkytonk as they are by hi-de-ho swing and punkgrass jamband music. Their latest album Arm in Arm is streaming at Bandcamp.

The third track, Sunny Days is a classic example of why these guys have such a big following. It’s a big singalong anthem, a showcase for banjo player Graham Sharp’s sizzling lines over guitarist Woody Platt’s punchy chords, fiddler Nicky Sanders sailing over bassist Barrett Smith’s steady pulse. When they take it down for a suspenseful break and then build up again, it’s Mike Guggino’s mandolin that’s out front. Old Crow Medicine Show made a living with songs like these for years, and so have the Steep Canyon Rangers. Crowds love this kind of stuff – and it’s a crime that in most parts of the United States, crowds aren’t allowed to come out to see it these days.

Everything You Know is another killer cut, a slow, hauntingly lyrical parable of imperialist evil and how to hang under the radar away from it. It could be the Jayhawks. In the year of the lockdown, this one really packs a wallop.

The rest of the record runs the gamut. Skipping right to the last track, Crystal Ship, to see if it was a crazy cover of the Doors song, turned out to be a false alarm: it’s an original, a subdued, slow, spare, melancholy ballad. Opening the album, One Drop of Rain follows a pretty standard newgrass pattern: enigmatic verse, catchy anthemic chorus.

Platt breaks out his electric slide guitar for Every River over drummer Michael Ashworth’s low-key drive, with some searing interplay with the fiddle. Honey on My Tongue has more of a low-key front-porch folk vibe, while In the Next Life diverges into wry, midtempo, syncopated Americana rock.

Bullet in the Fire is a pensive, stoically philosophical mandolin-driven ballad, followed by Take My Mind, a brisk shuffle featuring Oliver Wood and Michael Bearden. There’s also a sly, fiddle-fueled pickup number, A Body Like Yours and the Grateful Dead-influenced Afterglow.