New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: pop music

Svetlana & the Delancey Five Reinvent Classic Swing at the Blue Note

The difference between Svetlana & the Delancey Five and virtually every other female-fronted vocal jazz act out there is that they’re not just a singer and a backing band. There’s more interplay and musical conversation in this group than there is in practically any other similar lineup. Case in point: the take of Lady Be Good at their Blue Note show on Saturday. “Here’s one from when we used to be a dance band,” frontwoman Svetlana Shmulyian told the crowd as the ensemble launched into a lickety-split version peppered with counterpoint and call-and-response between both singer and instrumentalists, along with a striking handful of sudden syncopated shifts.

Of the original band’s original lineup, only the bandleader, and trumpeter Charlie Caranicas remain  – if you buy the argument that there was an original one. Like another New York institution, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, this band have always had a semi-rotating cast: Shmulyian’s address book is as deep as her collection of edgy original charts.

Throughout the rest of the set, the animated jousting between bandmates was nonstop. Tenor saxophonist Christopher McBride exchanged clusters and bursts with Caranicas, whose effortlessly rapidfire descent through a biting series of chromatics during an epically shapeshifting Nothing But Blue Skies was one of the show’s high points.

Bassist Endea Owens – most recently witnessed propelling the mighty all-female Sisterhood of Swing big band at Lincoln Center – voiced terse piano lines and horn lines, and then went into some lowdown funk in a radical remake of Remember Me, from the animated film Coco. Pianist Willerm Delisfort, who’d switched to a resonant, organlike Fender Rhodes setting for that one, tossed off an especially smoochy boudoir soul riff that drew an eye-rolling “I can’t believe you just did that” from the bassist. From the side seats, it wasn’t possible to see Delisfort’s reaction, but it was probably, “There’s more where that came from.”

Drummer Henry Conerway III turned his predecessor Rob Garcia’s arrangement of the Beatles’ Because into a New Orleans funeral theme – in 6/8 time, most of the way through. Likewise, he and the bandleader pounced through more than one jaunty drum-and-vocal duet.

Shmulyian – whose interpretations depend on whatever exchanges are going on with the group – was characteristically dynamic on the mic. Her signature delivery is as clear as a bell, but this time she added an unexpectedly welcome grit to A Tisket, a Tasket, her opening number. It may have been a throwaway for Ella Fitzgerald, but Shmulyian took a carefree playground rhyme and made a fierce double-dutch anthem out of it. Contrastingly, she turned the ballad Sooner or Later – from the Madonna film Dick Tracy – into swoony wee-hours saloon blues.

For upstate fans, they’re at the Falcon,1348 Rt. 9 W in Marlboro, NY on July 29 at 8 PM. They also have a new album, Night at the Movies, in the can, whose reinvented songs from films across the ages are reputedly as eclectic as the setlist as this gig.

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Tamara Hey Brings Her Wickedly Funny, Smart Story-Songs to the Rockwood

Tamara Hey’s soaring voice has charmed and captivated audiences here in her native New York for over a decade. She writes meticulously detailed, magically crystallized three-minute pop songs which, just like her vocals, are disarmingly deep. She’s also one of the great wits in music: an edgy sense of humor infuses everything she writes, even in the gloomiest moments. And her punchlines have O. Henry irony and Amy Rigby bittersweetness.

Yet even in Hey’s most optimistic scenarios, there are always dark clouds somewhere in the distance. She also happens to  be the rare conservatory-trained musician who doesn’t waste notes or let her chops get in the way of saying something as directly as possible, musically or lyrically. She’s playing the small room at the Rockwood on July 1 at 6 PM as part of an intriguing lineup. You know how it is at that place: run ‘em in, run ‘em, off without any regard for what the segues might be like, but in this case the 5 PM act, lyrical parlor pop band Paper Citizen make a good opener. And the 10 PM and midnight acts – southern gothic keyboardist/singer Sam Reider and guitarslinger Mallory Feuer’s fiery power trio the Grasping Straws – are also worth seeing, if you can hold out that long on a work night.

Hey played her most recent Rockwood gig to a packed house back in March. “Thanks for choosing me over Stormy Daniels,” she grinned, appreciating that everybody wasn’t pulling up CNN on their phones instead. Hey’s hilarious opening number, Your Mother Hates Me set the stage. Anybody who’s been in a relationship long enough to meet the ‘rents can relate. The resentment simmering just beneath Hey’s steady fingerpicking was visceral, and the jokes – especially the one about guys’ moms assuming that the girlfriend is a slut – were too good to give away.

She took her time working her way into Miserably Happy, the title of her 2008 album, drawing a few chuckles along the way as she picked up steam – it was like Blondie’s Dreaming, but wide awake, and with a stronger singer out front. Hey went back into stingingly funny mode after that with another new one, Rainy Rainy Cloud, a drivingly anthemic, snarky, spot-on portrait of a jealous frenemy.

She followed We Lean on Cars – a bittersweetly vivid portrait of North Bronx adolescent anomie – with Umbrella, a similarly imagistic, mutedly jazzy rainy-day tableau. Round Peg, a subtly slashing commentary on women’s body image and ridiculous societal pressures, was next and drew rousing applause.

Hey dedicated a stripped-down take of the powerpop gem Somebody’s Girl to fellow songsmith Lorraine Leckie, who was in the house and had dedicated her song Nobody’s Girl to Hey at a recent Mercury Lounge gig.

Isabelle, a plaintive folk-rock ballad with an evil twist, pondered the potential of a newlywed friend getting subsumed in her new marriage. Then Hey picked up the pace again with Drive and its understated escape subtext. 

After Girl Talk, which rose from a goth-tinged bassline to a powerpop insistence, Hey closed with David #3 – an absurdly funny tale about guys women really should stay away from – and encored with the gentle Thanks a Lot, New York, NY, a shout-out from an artist who doesn’t take her hometown for granted. Something like this could keep you enchanted on the first of the month down on Allen Street.

Elida Almeida Brings Her Catchy, Evocative Cape Verdean Anthems and Dancefloor Grooves to Lincoln Center

Elida Almeida might be the most prominent voice in Cape Verdean music since Cesaria Evora. Her global popularity attests to her ability to transcend linguistic barriers: she can evoke any emotion she wants, from righteous rage to exquisite tenderness.

“We really want to make sure that we are representing the people who make up this city, and the world,” Lincoln Center’s Jordana Leigh, who booked her show there last night, reminded the crowd. “If you have an opinion, call your representative.” She didn’t elaborate any further, but no doubt Almeida was on that same wavelength.

Almeida’s lyrics, in her native vernacular, have a biting social awareness. Sometimes allusively, sometimes very forcefully, she addresses the weariness of exile, young brides’ disillusionment, tragedy and struggle in the ghetto, and themes of nostalgia and escape. Likewise, her music extends far beyond the brooding morna balladry made world-famous by Evora, to bouncy funana and percussive batuque grooves. 

Almeida and her band opened with a pulsing, darkly anthemic minor-key number, segueing in a split-second into a twinkling soukous-tinged dance interlude fueled by Hernani Almeida’s spiky electric guitar and Diego Gomes’ pointillistic electric piano. By now, a young, energized Cape Verdean massive had moved onto the dancefloor.

An achingly lilting ballad rose and fell over a waterfall of echoey keys, matched by a jagged Portuguese guitar solo that peaked out in a flurry of tremolo-picking. “Everybody loves morna,” Almeida acknowledged as she brought the lights down with a moody, expectantly melancholy piano ballad, joining voices with Gomes for some tenderly ominous harmonies. Then she picked up the pace with a catchily whirling, syncopated batuque anthem, inviting a lady in the crowd up onstage for a brief orgy of booty-shaking, then drawing the crowd into a big singalong.

An enigmatically hooky three-chord progression anchored the anthem that followed. Then Gomes switched to accordion for a propulsive cumbia, which was where the whole house really started bouncing. Maybe that’s why the band leapt into doublespeed, bassist Nelly Cruz and drummer Magik Santiago digging in hard at the end.

A slow, spacious, regretful acoustic ballad with an achingly spare guitar solo was next on the bill, followed by a raucously scampering, latin-infused accordion tune that might have been the night’s most memorable song. From there the band took a sprint through what sounded like a Mexican banda polka and then sent a soaring, wryly aphoristic shout-out to cachupa, the Cape Verdean national rice-and-beans dish. Like any other seaside nation, Cape Verde is a real melting pot, further underscored by the salsa-funk tune the band barreled through after that. They encored with a plaintively swaying ballad that brought to mind vintage Sade as much as it did Evora. 

On one hand, listening to music from cultures with unfamiliar languages always feels a little vicarious. On the other, if you want a free, early-evening global tour of what’s happening around the world, just steps from the local IRT Broadway subway, Lincoln Center is the place to be this year. Their Atrium 360 series continues next Thursday, June 28 at 7:30 PM with a NYU-sponsored allstar lineup including but not limited to Palestinian singer Amal Murkus, Italian nyckelharpa virtuoso Marco Ambrosini, Israeli oudist Yair Dalal and Ghanian fiddler Meirigah Abubakari, all mashing up styles from their similarly eclectic backgrounds. With all of those diasporas coming out for the show, get there early if you’re going.

And the following night, June 29 Almeida and band are back in town for a show at SOB’s at 11 PM; cover is $25.

Amy Rigby at the Peak of Her Rapturous Literary Powers in Alphabet City Last Night

Last night at Berlin Amy Rigby was a riveting, intense, spring-loaded presence, swaying and stabbing at the air with the headstock of her guitar. She’d brought two for this solo show: a lusciously jangly Danelectro twelve-string, and a standard-issue acoustic for the punkier stuff.

About midway through, somebody interrupted her with a request. Rigby considered it but then admitted she’d forgotten what key it’s in, adding that she’d retired it after a critic had taken her to task for being too self-effacing.

In reality, Rigby definitely qualifies as humble, but her characters – single moms and struggling musicians in particular – don’t put themselves down as much as they just get worn down by having to surmount one obstacle after another. Like Ray Davies, a counterpart from an earlier era, Rigby is populist to the core, and even funnier than he is. Where Davies falls back on British vaudeville, Rigby draws on both Americana and classic powerpop, among other styles. And she’s more specifically literary.

Case in point: an offhandedly savage take of From philiproth@gmail to rzimmerman@aol.com, the wickeldy catchy, jangly shout-out to Dylan winning the Nobel Prize that opens Rigby’s latest album, The Old Guys. Just the premise of the song is hilarious. That Rigby offers a degree of sympathy for the wannabe sending his own halfhearted shout-out before her knockout of a punchline speaks to her prowess as a storyteller. She probably won’’t ever be enshrined in that corporate museum in Cleveland, but in the secret history of rock music, she’s a first-ballot hall-of-famer. Patti Smith times Elvis Costello divided by Skeeter Davis equals Amy Rigby – more or less.

Much as there were plenty of even more amusing moments, there’s always been a lot of gravitas in Rigby’s work and this set was loaded with it. She opened with Bobblehead Doll, a haggard, depleted narrative whose mantra is “What was it all for?” As she sometimes does, she coyly referenced a classic from her Nashville days in Are We Still There Yet, a fond look back at an era where cds and cassettes weren’t yet being left in boxes at random streetcorners.

A gorgeous, expansive take of Summer of My Wasted Youth was even more bittersweet. On a personal level, the screaming subtext is about having a hard time letting go of a pre-parenthood, pre-divorce rock & roll lifestyle. In historical context, it’s nothing short of shocking: there actually was a time in New York when an unemployment check could not only cover Manhattan rent but also the occasional tab at a cheap Greenpoint Polish bar.

Knapsack, a cleverly constructed tale about an unrequited crush on a bookstore security guy (at the old Borders on Church St., maybe?) was just as poignant. Rigby recounted how she’d written the wistful Tex-Mex flavored Back From Amarillo as a salute to the city, something that went little-noticed when she got to the venue because there wasn’t much of a crowd. She picked up the pace with The President Can’t Read, a savage swipe at the bozo in the Oval Office and kept the energy going with Hometown Blues, an uneasy bigup to her Pittsburgh hometown and all its quirks.

The funniest song of the night was Men in Sandals, a perplexed look at how anyone aspiring to any kind of macho heroism could wear them – it could be Mets broadcaster Howie Rose’s theme song. Rigby grew more somber toward the end of the set, reading a colorful excerpt about a college boyfriend from a forthcoming memoir and then playing a subdued, elegaic take of Bob, a song from the new album memorializing the late Lou Reed fanatic who obviously had a major impact on a future songwriting legend. She closed with Don’t Ever Change, which stops just short of exasperation in the latest chapter of a lifelong search for simple contentment. That’s just one reason why Rigby’s work resonates so universally.

Playing solo, just bass and vocals, Faith bandleader Felice Rosser built a magical, misty ambience with her catchy changes, looming chords, subtle slides and her otherworldly, Nina Simone-esque soul voice to open the evening. You might not think that just a Fender Precision and a mic would be enough to fill a room, but Rosser held the crowd rapt. With the Corinthian columns at the edge of the little stage, “It was like being in a temple,” as Rigby put it.

Rigby’s next gig is somewhere in Ojai, California on June 16. Her tour page doesn’t say where or when,

An Iconic, Fearlessly Populist Brooklyn Band Releases Their Most Ambitious Album in Bushwick Saturday Night

If there’s any New York band who’ve earned a song about themselves, it’s Les Sans Culottes. It’s on their latest album, She is Tossed By the Waves But Does Not Sink, streaming at Bandcamp. That’s the Paris city motto, and there’s no small irony in that the same could be said for the band. Since the 90s, they’ve slowly expanded from their origins as the Spinal Tap of late 60s French ye-ye psychedelic pop, to become as eclectic as the New York borough they represent used to be before the blitzkrieg of out-of-state white yuppies and “luxury” condos. No other New York band have spoken out as witheringly or accurately against the blight of gentrification as this shapeshifting crew – in spot-on, slangy French, no less. They’re playing the album release show this Saturday night, June 2 at 10 PM at El Cortez in Bushwick. The show isn’t listed on the venue calendar, but if they charged $20 for Amy Rigby, this should be about half that or less.

Along the way, the group have weathered several lineup changes and even a lawsuit by a spinoff of the band. That the Sans Culottes brand would be worth taking to court speaks for itself. This latest edition, fronted by founder Clermont Ferrand, is the most stylistically eclectic ever. While there are a few songs that bring to mind late 60s Serge Gainsbourg or Françoise Hardy, the satire is subtler than ever. Their signature mockery of French would-be rockers stumbling through all sorts of American idioms is still there, but the songs span from lush new wave to Stonesy rock to faux funk, stadium anthems and the noir.

The opening track’s title, Eiffel Tour is a Franglais pun – in French, it’s Le Tour Eiffel. It’s as much a musical as lyrical spoof, a shuffling early 70s style French faux funk tune driven by keyboardist Benoit Bals’ trebly Farbisa over Jacques Strappe’s drums and M. Pomme Frite’s bass. It’s the band’s An American in Paris:

Je prends mon élan
Et parle en verlan
Nous sommes en terrasse

[This is tough to translate, and indicative of how clever this band’s lyrics are. The first couple of lines roughly equate to “I get up the nerve and talk in verlan,” a French counterpart to pig Latin from the late 80s Paris banlieu Arab ghetto. “Nous sommes en terrasse,” meaning literally “We’re on the terrace,” was a meme referring to how resolute the French remained in the wake of the 2015 massacre at the Charlie Hebdo office. In that context, it’s “We’re just chilling.”]

There’s more Bals on this album than any of the band’s previous releases. Case in point: the warbly Wurlitzer electric piano and swirly organ on the more authentically funky second number, which is also more musically than lyrically satirical.

Chuchotements Chinois (Chinese Whispers – a reference to the French obsession with the Cure, maybe?) sets Geddy Liaison’s Rolling Stones guitar and lush vocals from the band’s two women singers, Kit Kat Le Noir and Brigitte Bordeaux, over a coy new wave strut with a sly resemblance to a popular 80s hit by French band Indochine. The phony bossa De Rien is a cluelessly chipper breakup number complete with breathy boudoir vocals and loungey piano.

The glossy, synthy 80s-style Chibeca v. Chewbacca shoots a spitball at sleazy developers trying to rename New York neighborhoods: rebranding gritty, constantly shrinking Chinatown as part of shi-shi Tribeca isn’t quite as moronic as calling the South Bronx the Piano District, but it’s close.

The jaunty doo-wop rock of L’Histoire des Sans Culottes chronicles the band’s triumphs and tribulations:

NOUS AVONS EU DES IMITATEURS,
BANDES D’HOMMAGES, MAUVAIS DOPPELGÄNGERS
En manque évident de savoir faire
Ersatz inferieurs sorry ass loseurs

[We’ve had imitators
Tribute bands, bad doppelgangers
Who obviously couldn’t get things done…]

You don’t really need a translation for that last line, right?

Je Ne Sais Quoi pokes playful fun at French pronouns over a slightly less retro backdrop. Along with their Cure obsession, the French also have a rabid Stooges cult, which the band salute in Detroit Rock Cite – which actually sounds more like AC/DC with keys. Mismatched styles are also the joke in A La Mode, an ersatz Stones-flavored shout out to Prince. The band follow that with La Ballade de Johnny X, poking wistful fun at the femme fatale tradition as personified by noir acts like Juniore

The catchy, riff-rocking Je M’en Fous (I Don’t Give a Fuck) opens with the line “Tawdry Adieu ou Audrey Tautou” and stays just as amusing from there, with a snide reference to French misadventures in imperialism. In the Hall of the Ye Ye King (Agathe Bauer) is a mock-rock salute to the power of unlikely one-hit wonder Euro-pop. The album winds up on a surprisingly somber note with the lavish art-rock epic Aller Sans Retour (One Way Ticket). Your appreciation of this album will increase immeasurably if you speak French – check the band’s priceless lyrics page– but it’s not necessary. Look for this on the best albums of 2018 list at the end of the year if Trump doesn’t blow us all up by then. 

Squeegee Men and Twin Peaks Themes in Long Island City Tonight

There’s a great twinbill tonight, April 30 starting at 9 at Long Island City Bar. A fantastic band who call themselves Fuck You Tammy play Twin Peaks themes and music from David Lynch movies starting at around 9. Then at 10 the Squeegee Men play their twisted, reverb-laced original surf rock and cowpunk songs.

The Squeegee Men have an ep, Coney Island Shark Bite, up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The title track is a real blast, a serpentine instrumental that shifts from snappy, bass-driven dark garage rock to a sunnier, jazz-tinged, beachy theme and then back, guitar overdriven into the red.

After a careening, jangly take of My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It – as in “My bucket’s got a hole in it, I can’t buy no beer” – the band launch into Slow Burn and its swaying Wooden Indian Burial Ground-like contrasts between icepick leads and fuzztone menace. The album winds up with White Freightliner, a shout-out to diesel big rigs that brings to mind 80s cowpunk bands like the Raunch Hands.

A word about the band name for millennials – back in the 90s, homeless guys armed with squeegees and water buckets would stake out busy New York intersections, and the exits from the Holland and Battery tunnels, hoping to extort a few bucks from sympathetic motorists. The bridge-and-tunnel crowd hated this, and mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani exploited the situation for all the racist mileage he could get out of it in his successful 1993 campaign.

Back to the music – Fuck You Tammy put on a hell of a show here back in February, a less jam-oriented approach than guitarist Tom Csatari has taken with Lynch themes. With guitar, keys, rhythm section behind her, their dynamic frontwoman belted and purred her way through vocal numbers including a hazy, aptly nocturnal take of Julee Cruise’s Falling and The Nightingale.They stalked their way through The Bookhouse Boys, then did a restrained version of the sultry, vamping Audrey’s Theme as well as a more expansive, psychedelic take of the iconic Twin Peaks title theme. It makes sense that they might be even tighter, with possibly more material, this time out.

Emma Grace Stephenson Brings Her Dynamic Piano Songcraft to Gowanus This Weekend

If state-of-the-art tuneful songcraft is your thing, the place to be this weekend is at Shapeshifter Lab on April 29 at 7 PM where brilliantly eclectic Australian pianist and singer Emma Grace Stephenson opens a fantastic triplebill, leading a trio with a surprise mystery guest singer (the venue says it’s Kristin Berardi). Afterward at a little after 8 another pianist, Richard Sussman leads his sweeping, enveloping allstar Sextet, which includes Tim Hagans on trumpet; Rich Perry on tenor sax and Zach Brock on violin. Then at 9:30 by the Notet with saxophonist Jeremy Udden, trombonist JC Sanford, guitarist Andrew Green and guests playing he album release show for their new one.

Stephenson is an artist who rightfully could headline a bill like this. She’s an extraordinarily vivid composer whose work gravitates toward the dark side. Her greatest achievement so far is probably her work with the Hieronymus Trio, whose 2016 album is a high-water mark in recent noir cinematic jazz. But she’s also a songwriter, and has a plaintively dynamic new album, Where the Rest of the World Begins, with them and singer Gian Slater, due out soon but not yet up at her music page.

Maybe coincidentally, the opening track, Crows Will Still Fly comes across as a more rhythmically tricky take on the same kind of moody parlor pop that Stephenson’s fellow Oz songwriter Greta Gertler Gold has perfected over the past decade or so. Slater’s airy, expressive high soprano is a cross between Gertler Gold and Minnie Riperton, but more misty than either singer. The lithe bass and drums of Nick Henderson and Oliver Nelson push the song into a bright, triumphant clearing for Slater’s scatting; then Stephenson follows with a similarly crescendoing piano solo. “With great joy comes great sorrow” is the theme.

Song For My Piano is a wry, saloon blues-love ballad: “While you throw stones in the water, blowing my cover, who am I kidding?” Slater wants to know; then the bandleader goes for a cautiously rippling spiral of a solo. As a pianist, Stephenson brings to mind Mara Rosenbloom’s blend of neoromantic gleam and brushfire improvisation.

If the Sun Made a Choice has a jaunty Dawn Oberg-like bounce and an imagistic lyric pondering the pitfalls of narrow, dualistic thinking. Rising out of purposeful chords and washes of cymbals, Love Is Patient is much more expansive, even rubato in places: ”Always in the present tense with every sense, do less, live more,” Slater cajoles.

Stephenson switches to Rhodes, then eventually moves back to the grand piano for Going In Circles. an unlikely but successful mashup of artsy ELO-style pop, 70s soul and trickily metric, tightly  unspooling Philip Glass-ine melody. The final cut is the epic title track, which takes a turn in the brooding direction of the trio’s previous album. Stephenson opens it spaciously and expands from there with her rippling water imagery:

An endless flow of useless thoughts and consequent sensations
Can govern every step we take filling us with trepidation
But we are not the thoughts within nor just an empty vessel…

From there a magically misterioso drum solo and Stephenson’s pointillistic, music-box-like solo punctuate this poetic meditation on impermanence and change. Lots to sink your ears into here from a fearlessly individualistic talent who defies easy categorization.

Two Rare New York Shows by Magically Chameleonic Israeli Singer Victoria Hanna

Singer Victoria Hanna has built a career as one of Israel’s most individualistic and magically protean vocalists. She draws on centuries of Middle Eastern music as well as the avant garde and more commercial dancefloor sounds. Her lyrics often explore ancient mystical themes; her evocative, protean voice transcends linguistic limitations. You don’t have to speak Hebrew to fall under her spell. The last time anybody from this blog was in the house at one of her performances was way back in the zeros, when she electrified a sold-out crowd at Tonic on the Lower East Side with a couple of cameos at a Big Lazy album release show. Since that iconic noir cinematic group very seldom uses vocals, that they would choose Hanna to sing with them speaks for itself.

Hanna is at the Bronx Museum of the Arts at 1040 Grand Concourse on April 25 at 6 PM in conjunction with the opening for new exhibits by Oded Halahmy and Moses Ros. Admission is free but a ravp is required; take the B to 167th St. Then the next day, April 26 she’s making a very rare Brooklyn appearance on April 26 at 7 PM with Gershon Waiserfirer on electric oud and trombone at the first special event in Luisa Muhr’s fascinating Women Between Arts series at the Arete Gallery, 67 West St. in Greenpoint. The closest train is the G at Greenpoint Ave; cover is $25.

Hanna’s long-awaited debut album is streaming at her music page. The instrumentation is usually very spare – occasional strings, brass and percussion. The songs are a mix of upbeat, new wave-tinged dance numbers, with occasional windswept ambience. The first track, Aleph- Bet (Hoshana) is both characteristically playful and unsettling. It’s a Hebrew alphabet rhyme that also references ancient Jewish numerology. Hanna’s multitracked, processed voice takes on both techy outer-space and otherworldly Middle Eastern cadences over former Big Lazy drummer Tamir Muskat’s shamanistic, echoey beats – if Bjork was Middle Eastern, she might sound something like this

The second track, 22 Letters revisits that theme over a funky, minimalist habibi pop groove. That grows a lot slinkier in Orayta, a catchy, bouncy, similarly spare devotional hymn spiced with spare, echoey synth and spiky buzuq riffs. Hanna infuses Sheharhoret (Brown-haired Girl) with a misterioso, coyly conspiratorial energy, her melismatic delivery part levantine, part Bollywood.

Ani Yeshena (Sleeping But My Heart Is Awake) is a surreal mashup of a stately klezmer dirge, Balkan brass music and catchy new wave pop. Hanna follows with the wistfully hazy, atmospheric Kala Dekalya (The Voice of All the Voices) and Hayoshevet Baganim (Sitting in the Garden), the latter with airy accordion and echoes of north Indian ghazals.

In contrast with the song’s spacious rainy-day piano, Hanna’s voice is both more hopeful and tender throughout Shaarei Tziyon, a duet. With its lush string ambience, Yonati (My Dove) brings to mind the terse art-songs of Tunisian chanteuse Emel Mathlouthi. The album’s final and most haunting track is the majestically crescendoing grey-sky tableau Asher Yarzar. Fans of all of Hanna’s many influences, from classical Indian to Middle Eastern to dance music should get to know her.

A Rapturous, Hauntingly Spare Solo Album From Enigmatic Cello Rock Songstress Serena Jost

The sheer hummability of cellist/multi-instrumentalist Serena Jost’s music contrasts with the opaqueness of her lyrics. In her music, nothing is ever as it seems despite all indications to the contrary. That enigmatic sensibility has served her well over the past fifteen years. The closest comparison is ELO’s Jeff Lynne, a similarly brilliant tunesmith whose signature sound blends classical ideas with rock, and has a similarly distinctively, elegant production style as well. Jost’s newest album, Up to the Sky – streaming at her music page – is her most ambitious to date. It’s a solo recording, just cello and vocals, recorded in the rich, reverberating sonics of St. Peter’s Church at 346 W 20th St. in Chelsea, where she’s playing the album release show on April 19 at 7:30 PM. Cover is $10; a reception will follow.

Window opens the album. Jost’s stark, ambered low chords, circling in a Philip Glass vein, anchor her clear, pensive vocals. A recurring shooting star reference adds to the nocturnal rapture and unease.

The influence of Jost’s frequent collaborator Amanda Thorpe shines through plaintively in The Cut, a canteringly hypnotic, Britfolk-tinged, plaintively imagistic lament. Likewise, the wave motion of Clement – just vocalese and cello – sets the stage for Great Conclusions. Playing this with her band, Jost cuts loose with a galloping, crescendoing intensity, but in this version, her pizzicato attack is muted, her vocals understated and clear, echoing Linda Thompson as the song’s gloomily allusive narrative winds out.

Hallway. another instrumental with vocalese, brings in a hazy late-afternoon sun, introducing the baroque-flavored vignette Happiness. “Happiness has come and gone without warning, just a lantern in the night.” Jost intones.

Lullaby is a melody much of the world knows from childhood; the cello adds a newly somber undercurrent. By contrast, It’s a Delight rises to an unexpectedly triumphant crescendo over the sparest, circling low-register riff. Jost works that dichotomy again in Silver Star, its images of escape and release over subtle variations on a mantra-like cello phrase. The album concludes, unresolved, with the fragmentary, echoing, mysterious Red Door. Fans of darkly individualistic songwriters from Carol Lipnik to Connie Converse will devour this. Indie classical people ought to check this out as well – for what it’s worth, Jost once arranged and led a fifty-cello performance of Terry Riley’s In C!

Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards Bring Their Fearlessly Imaginative, Psychedelic Americana to the Rockwood

Violinist Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards stand out in a crowded Americana field for their fearlessness and originality. They aren’t the first to play retro acoustic roots music for string ensemble – a lot of classical types have a secret or not-so-secret fondness for folk music. Sadly, much as some of that crew are completely sincere, they don’t swing and they can’t really improvise. That’s where Cortese really shines. She and the band are playing the downstairs third stage at the Rockwood tomorrow night, April 14 at 11:30 PM; cover is $15.

Their latest album California Calling – streaming at Spotfy – isn’t particularly oldtimey, either. In fact, there’s only one tradtional tune on it. What Hem were to the zeros, Cortese and band are in the here and now. Case in point: the hypnotic opening track, The Low Hum, awash in hazy washes of strings, second violinist Jenna Moynihan anchoring the song on banjo, multi-instrumentalist Sam Kassirer adding woozy Dr. Dre synth. That it works as seamlessly as it does validates Cortese’s outside-the-box arrangement.

Cortese;s vocals infuse the album’s title track with warmth and intimacy amid a swirl of backing vocals, swelling strings and bouncy pizzicato: it’s not clear whether that spiky lead line is Cortese, Moynihan or cellist Valerie Thompson.

The women in the band – which also includes bassist Natalie Bohrn – join voices and then instruments in the lush, Celtic-tinged Three Little Words. If Irish chamber folk psychedelia didn’t exist before now, this band just invented it. There’s a fetching, Kasey Chanbers-ish break in Cortese’s voice in the bittersweetly swaying ballad Skipping Stone, with more spiky/atmospheric contrast.

The psychedelic Hold On, with its gospel allusions and trip-hop beat, brings to mind cult favorite New York Americana songstress Barbara Brousal – who’s since absconded to Boston. The band reinvent Swing & Turn (Jubilee), the album’s lone traditional tune, in much the same fashion, Cortese’s vocals soaring to the top of her register before the band finally cut loose with a jaunty reel.

The women’s four-part harmonies offer comfort in icy times in Rhododendron, which segues into Someday, sort of a more bluegrass-oriented take on Andrew Bird at his most bucolic. Stockholm, an allusive cautionary tale – “You’ve got to find a place to call home” – is another unlikely successful mashup of bluegrass and echoey psychedelia.

Bohrn’s starkly dancing bassline propels Pace Myself, a bluesy trip-hop number, edging from echoey Soft Cell new wave pop toward neo-soul. The album closes with If You Can Hear Me, a Taylor Ashton cover that doesn’t measure up to the strength of Cortese’s songwriting despite an interesting arrangement. It’s impossible to imagine anyone releasing more original album than this lately.