New York Music Daily

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Category: reggae music

Eight-String Guitarist Charlie Hunter Brings His Irrepressibly Fun Band to the Rockwood

Guitarists who don’t waste notes are a rare breed. They’re even rarer in the world of jambands and summer tours, which is where Charlie Hunter made his mark. As you would expect from a guy who tacked on a couple of extra strings to bolster the low end of his six-string model, groove is his thing. In doing so, he invented his own style of music, equal parts jazz, reggae, funk and vintage soul. And he can be hilarious. His latest excellent, characteristically eclectic album Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get Punched is streaming at Spotify. Hunter and his fantastic quartet have a two-night stand coming up on March 8 and 9 at 8:30 PM at the third stage at the Rockwood; cover is $15. The last time this blog was in the house there, they weren’t enforcing that annoying drink minimum, a good thing since Hunter’s crowd is more likely to smoke than get wasted on the Rockwood’s expensive drinks.

The album opens with the title track, a slow, comfortable swing blues with a characteristically wry, bubbling Curtis Fowlkes trombone solo; then cornetist Kirk Knuffke signals that all may not be so cool after all. Drummer Bobby Previte’s emphatic, tersely swinging slow triplet groove anchors the second track, Looks Like Someone Got Ahead of Schedule on Their Medication, which opens with an amusingly woozy voicings from Fowlkes and Knuffke, then takes a detour to New Orleans before the meds kick in again.

Staccato horns add spice to Leave Him Lay, a mid-80s Grateful Dead style blues fueled by Previte’s swinging, almost disco drive and Hunter’s spiky, Bob Weir-ish chords. We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent is an uneasily swaying midtempo noir theme, like Big Lazy with horns and  a long, purposefully crescendoing blues solo from the bandleader. Then Hunter gets even more retro with Big Bill’s Blues, ostensibly a Big Bill Broonzy homage. beginning starkly and then shifting into jubilant Crescent City territory with some artful counterpoint from the horns.

The darkly simmering soul theme Latin for Travelers is a vehicle for a contrastingly bright solo from Knuffke and then Fowlkes, dipping down to just the horns and then back for extra dynamic punch. No Money No Honey is as hard as the funk gets here, although it’s more of a swing tune: everybody in the band, especially Previte, is having a ball with this one.

Who Put You Behind the Wheel opens as a spaciously tiptoeing, Asian-tinged excursion, then morphs into reggae, with a trick ending. The looseness and freeness of Wish I Was Already Paid and On My Way Home mask its relentlessly dark, distantly klezmer-tinged undercurrent . The album winds up with the jaunty, dixieland-ish second-line march The Guys Get Shirts. This works on every level, as first-rate jazz, blues and psychedelia.

Jackie Venson Brings Her Searing Guitar Chops and Smart Tunesmithing to Harlem

Jackie Venson is one of the most world’s most awe-inspiring Texas blues guitarists. She also happens to be a strong, eclectic songwriter and an excellent singer with a soaring top end to her vast range, similar to how she plays guitar. Her latest album, Live at Strange Brew – streaming at Bandcamp – captures her blazing fretwork, soulful vocals and a tight rhythm section at the top of their game in the intimate confines of an Austin coffeeshop. Now, you might wonder where this amazing musician might be playing when she swings through New York this weekend. Hmmm…Bowery Ballroom? The Beacon? Or, considering that she’s a blues player, you might expect her to be at Terra Blues, or Lucille’s, or maybe Paris Blues Bar uptown.

Nope. She’s playing Silvana – the younger, yuppier, yappier Columbia-area sister to the wonderfully scruffy Shrine further north- on Dec 4 at 10 PM. If great guitar is your thing, the trip on the D train will be worth it. And if you can’t make it, you can livestream the show here

The album’s opening track, Show My Light, comes across as a mashup of 70s Stevie Wonder and another Stevie, a guy from Venson’s home state, who used to play a Strat and left us way too early. The funky Real Love pulses along with an uneasy, spare vibe until Venson hits her volume pedal and delivers a long volley of counterintuitive triplets that really get the crowd going. Then she opens the moody Lost in Time with a trippy, echoey, dub reggae edge and has all kinds of fun with her pedals before spiraling off into deep-space blues.

Venson veers between a slow, gritty boogie and shuffling Hendrix funk throughout See What You Want. One Step Forward, a brisk, straight-up blues, is a cautionary tale to Venson’s fellow guitarslingers:

We lose our freedom when we’re too scared to fight…
When we make music and fall for the dollar sign
One step forward, two steps farther behind

The allusive, death-obsessed Back to Earth is the most overtly Hendrix-inspired (i.e. Third Stone from the Sun) track here. What I Need careens between 70s stoner riff-rock and reggae, rising to some pretty unhinged tremolo-picking. Then Venson pulses through the set’s poppiest number, Instinct, echoing both All Along the Watchtower and Foxy Lady.

The slow blues Rollin’ On gives Venson a launching pad for her most dynamic, thoughtful guitar work here, finally rising to a screaming, icy, reverbtoned peak: it’s the album’s best song. “Are you awake now?” she taunts the audience as she slinks into the final number, Always Free, with its understatedly poetic, broodingly relevant urban imagery and a sizzling solo midway through.

More artists should do live albums. Do it right and you can catch magic in a bottle like Venson did here (but you have to know your material and you can’t slack off and let the producer play your instruments for you like all the indie rock boys do). And live albums are truth in advertising: your audience, and your potential audience, know exactly what they’re getting in advance. It’s hard to think of better advertising for Venson than this. 

A Deliciously Catchy, Rewarding Quadruplebill at Berlin Last Night

It’s usually too much to ask someone to stick around through four bands in a row. But the quadruplebill last night at Berlin was worth it, four short sets and good segues between them.

Lily Virginia opened, solo. Her moody, mostly minor-key songs came across as a more organic take on corporate urban pop. It was cool that she played electric guitar rather than acoustic, with a dirty tone that gave her songs extra bite. She’s a solid player with a good sense of melody, even venturing into jazz chords in places. Her signature sound is that she runs her vocals through a pitch pedal for harmonies, and octaves, and all kinds of effects that ran the gamut from surreal to comedic. She’s playing the album release show for her new one at SoHo House, 29 9th Ave. in the meatpacking district on Nov 16, time TBA. Let’s hope that the songs on it are as richly textured and soulful as her set was: it’s easy to imagine a producer taking them and running hogwild with cheesy effects like drum machines and autotune.

Is there a style of music that Maya Lazaro can’t write in? Apparently not. The former Mariachi Flor de Toloache guitarist and singer led her tight, inspired band through a consistently catchy, dazzlingly eclectic mix of songs. When she wasn’t weilding her Telecaster, she was dancing, showing off some serious moves. Decked out in what looked like a pashmina over a casual studio outfit, she crouched and pounced and spun like a young Annabella Lwin (if you have a soft spot for the kind of new wave sounds that Lazaro has so much fun with, you get the reference). Matching power with dynamics and some misty mystery, she opened with Premonition, which sounded like it could have been from Madonna’s first album but with a biting reggae guitar edge. The second number, Cave Diving, was straight-up roots reggae in a John Brown’s Body vein, with a wry wah-wah organ solo at the end

From there the band – guitarist JR Atkins, keyboardist Michael Hesselin, bassist Nate Allen and drummer Kyle Olson – wound through Fever in My Mind, a tightly scampering Elvis Costello-esque new wave tune complete with a swirly Steve Nieve-style organ solo out as the bandleader swayed and twirled. Her latest single, No. 89 opened with watery chorus-box guitar over a laid-back clave beat – oldschool soul drifting gently through the prism of new wave –  slide guitar contrasting with uneasily twinkly keys.

Love on the Street could have been the great hit single that Cindy Lauper never wrote. Next, the group launched into August Night, a straight-up backbeat highway rock tune that could have been vintage Springsteen, or the BoDeans with an alluring voice out front. The slide guitar solo out completed the picture. They saved the catchiest and most unexpected number, Stranger- a song that could be the great lost anthem on side 2 of Purple Rain – for last, Lazaro wailing, “Don’t wanna be a stranger anymore” on the way to a cold ending. She and the band play next on Nov 13 at around 10 at Footlight Bar, 465 Seneca Ave. (at Hamman) in Ridgewood; the excellent, more inscrutable and mistier Ivy Meissner precedes her at around 9. Take the L to DeKalb Ave.

The City and Horses played the night’s longest set, lots of funky, swinging mashups of new wave and 70s soul music as Elvis Costello or the Style Council used to do it – or as Lazy Lions do it now. They’re fantastic musicians. The two guitarists – frontman Marc Cantone and Shane Connerty – exchanged neat exchanges of furious tremolo-picking, when the latter wasn’t adding judicious resonance or biting funk-tinged riffs. They opened with a neo-mod romp and then a swaying soul-tinged anthem, Cantone looking back fondly on a teenage stoner girlfriend – or would-be girlfriend. This band’s songs are packed with funny lyrics, wry metaphors and self-effacing humor. The rhythm section – bassist Matt Manhire and drumme Chris Mirtalla – distinguished themselves with a couple of spot-on 70s disco interludes.

Most of their songs had one-word titles, the funniest of these being Space (as in, “I’ll give you space,” along with every planet in the solar system), winding up with a long, nebulous outro from keyboardist/alto saxophonist Nikki D’Agostino. Another number had a really funny verse where Cantone considered every member of the Rolling Stones’ lineup before he finally tells the girl, “I’ll be your Charlie Watts.” They wound up the set with the bitterly but bouncy We’ll Never Be Discovered and its rapidfire, noir-jazz spoken-word verses – on the surface, it’s about a tryst, but there’s a whole other level of meaning. Discovering a random band this good, late on a work night, makes all this running around town worthwhile.

And the Cabana Kids – guitarist/singer Joseph Lee and singer/percussionist Kiki Karamintzas – sent the crowd home on a rapturous note with their gorgeously bittersweet 60s flavored pop tunes. Lee played a Rickenbacker for extra jangle and clang, opening with the heartbreakingly beautiful ballad I Don’t Know Where You Are Now . It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to put the duo’s woundedly soaring harmonies in the same class with the Everly Brothers. From there the two moved back and forth between romping, vampy, upbeat janglepop and austere, lowlit laments, closing with a lascivious pop number. The night was over around half past midnight but could have gone on for another hour or more and nobody would have complained. Further proof that in the East Village these days, Sunday and Monday really are the new Friday and Saturday night.

Bewitchingly Slinky, Darkly Psychedelic Cumbia from Bareto

For those of us who equate minor keys with excitement and passion rather than sadness, slinky Peruvian psychedelic cumbia band Bareto’s fantastic album El Impredecible is streaming at Spotify. And while they don’t seem to be hitting New York soon, they have a US tour coming up.

Like their northern counterparts Chicha Libre – who are a big reason why cumbia became the world’s default party music – Bareto reference the classic, surfy sounds of the late 60s and 70s while adding their own distinctive, equally psychedelic touches. The album’s opening track, La Voz Del Sinchi has the feel of a Los Destellos classic, but with more of a late 70s feel, lead guitarist Joaquín Mariátegui playing his eerily chromatic chords with a shivery, icy chorus-box tone. The album’s second track, La Pantalla (The Screen) has one of the funniest videos made this century: for anyone who’s come home trashed at 4 AM and clicked through to Univision, or Telemundo, or Venevision, this parody will have you laughing til your face hurts. Lead singer Mauricio Mesones’ deadpan vocal downplays its caustic commentary on moronic south-of-the-border tv. If you think that American networks are retarded, go a little further south. The creepy carnival organ drives it home.

The title track takes a sardonically bouncy detour toward shuffling Veracruz folk, with a lingering psychedelic edge. Likewise, Mariátegui’s No Es Para Mi (It’s Not for Me) has a sunny tropical feel, in this case a wah guitar-fueled shout out to Os Mutantes-style bossa-pop. Then the band completely flips the script with the snaky, deliciously carnivalesque La Negra y el Fantasma (The Girl and the Ghost), also by Mariátegui. The interweave of the spare but resonant reverb guitars – that’s Rolo Gallardo on the other one – along with Miguel Ginocchio’s accordion and funeral organ, over the percussion and drums of Jorge Olazo and Sergio Sarria, is intoxicatingly tasty.

The southwestern gothic dub-flavored Bombo Baile takes awhile to get going, then the guitar starts shooting off sparks, a surreal, mind-warping mashup of vintage C&W and Los Destellos’ six-string legend Enrique Delgado. Similarly, the ominous, lingering Viejita Guarachera goes in a dub direction, referencing the Specials’ ska-noir classic, Ghost Town over Jorge Giraldo’s classic roots reggae bass.

Mamá Motelo, by Gallardo, pushes the trippy swirl along, its surf guitar multitracks evoking classic Lima chicha acts like Los Mirlos and Los Diablos Rojos. Susana Baca guests on vocals on the uneasily atmospheric El Loco, an extremely unlikely but unexpectedly successful mashup of traditional festejo folk and the Church’s late 80s spacerock. La Semilla (The Seed) has a twinkling, nocturnal Hawaiian vibe, while the album’s closing cut, País de las Maravillas (Miracle Land) has the loping groove and trebly guitar textures of a classic Los Destellos hit. Bands like this just make you want to forget about American rock and head for the mountains and the jungle where chicha was first fermented.

Speaking of psychedelic cumbia, it’s worth sending out a special shout to Consumata Sonidera, who literally stopped traffic at their show uptown at 125th St. and the highway a couple of weeks ago. When they took the little stage at the park on the river, there was hardly anyone there. By the time they left, almost down to the second that the rain started, cars had pulled over along with bike riders and seemingly half the people making their walk home, not expecting to hear anything like this fun, eclectic, trippy low-key set with just guitar, bass, percussion and frontman Bruno Navarro’s diamond-cutting alto sax.

Anbessa Orchestra Plays a Killer Barbes Show, Then Heads to Red Hook

One of the most exciting concerts of this summer promises to be the twinbill on July 1 at Pioneer Works at 159 Pioneer St. in Red Hook, where sizzling Israeli-American Ethiopiques groove band Anbessa Orchestra opens for popular Ethiopian jazz bandleader/keyboardist Hailu Mergia. Realistically, there probably aren’t a lot of people outside of Red Hook who are going to go to this, but if you are in Red Hook, get your ass over to the venue and pick up an advance ticket for $20 and save yourself five bucks off the door charge. The show is advertised as beginning at 8, although things usually start on the later side here. The easiest way to get to the venue from downtown Brooklyn is to catch the B61 bus, which runs down Court St. and then takes a right on Atlantic, past Sahadi’s, and will drop you off about a block and a half from the venue.

Anbessa Orchestra played an amazing show at Barbes the Saturday night over Memorial Day weekend. They hit hard right from the start, shifting rhythms artfully from slinky to funkier as guitarist Nadav Peled fired off intricate Malian desert rock hammer-on riffs, the alto saxophonist picking things up with a bluesy, exuberant solo as the band cantered behind him. They hit a punchy, staccato minor-key Ethio-funk groove after that, Peled distinguishing himself as he would do all night, finding interesting places to go on the fretboard throughout what was basically a one-chord jam as the dancers on the floor twirled and bounced.

Fueled by Eden Bareket’s smoky baritone sax, the next number built quickly out of an ominous intro to a brisk, camelwalking triplet rhythm, balmy alto sax overhead. Considering that the blues is African and Ethiopian music is the world’s oldest, it’s no surprise to hear so much blues in this band’s music. What’s most refreshing, and ultimately makes them as catchy as they are, is that they keep things terse and purposeful and don’t overplay. The horns are tight and so is the rhythm section, and when somebody tales off on a solo, they make it count, whether Bareket’s offhandedly wild postbop spirals on this particular number, or the bubbling organ against the ominously looming horns on the similarly funky but considerably more otherworldly tune after that. A biting, puristically bluesy Wayne Tucker trumpet solo and Peled’s clanking, clenched-teeth guitar each built to an explosive peak as the music rose and fell.

The highest point of the night was when Tucker went blasting and trilling to an instant crescendo as the even mightier anthem afterward swelled and then grew quieter, Peled’s deep-desert riffage bobbing and weaving under a tightly syncopated minor-key horn chart, drummer Eran Fink and bassist Tamir Shmerling nimbly negotiating its tricky rhythm, seemingly shifting in and out of focus. Peled took it down to a quiet, darkly majestic solo interlude before the organ and rhythm section pulled it back up into the stormclouds. Then the band completely flipped the script with an easygoing, catchy, major-key, vintage Jamaican-style rocksteady tune. And that was just the first set. These are just some of the flavors they’re likely to bring to Red Hook on the first of next month.

 

Skatalites Classics From a Fiery Horn Band at Barbes on the 26th

Pangari & the Socialites are probably at the top of the pool of New York bands most likely to change their name. They’re a bunch of up-and-coming jazz types playing ska…just like the Skatalites were doing fifty-plus years ago. While this roughly ten-piece ensemble isn’t mashing up calypso, jazz and early 60s American soul music and inventing a brand new style like Lloyd Knibb, Don Drummond and the rest of that iconic Jamaican crew, they do justice to the group’s classics and also some obscurities. And just like the Skatalites would do in concert, they really stretch the songs out. Their next gig is at Barbes on April 26 at 8 PM.

They played Barbes back in January. Bandleader/bassist Ari Folman-Cohen kicked off the uneasy, minor-key opening number in tandem with the pianist, trumpets punching in and out in tight harmony as the trombones loomed overhead. Since these songs are mostly instrumentals, most of them pretty famous – at least in the ska demimonde – the group didn’t bother with intros, just launched into one jaunty skank after another, usually with a tasty one-drop flurry on the turnaround..

The band tackled the songs more expansively as the set went on, keeping things short and sweet in the beginning. Solos were generously and evenly distributed among the band. One jaggedly edgy alto sax ended with a menacing chromatic run down the scale; another built achingly intense ambience with a series of long, sputtering blue notes. Elegantly resonant trombone backed away as frenetically shivery trumpet and then a spine-tingling, Balkan-tinged alto solo took centerstage.

The pianist added latin flair; the guitarist went for 60s-style psychedelic soul. The most ambitious soloist was baritone sax player Maria Eisen, whether grounding a lush, airy chart with smoky, rapidfire, bluesy lines, or spiraling to the top of her register with an irrepressibly hard-edged attack. Midway through the show, they brought up a singer and took a turn into balmy rocksteady – Turn Your Lamp Down Low, and Jackie Edwards’ Tears Like Rain – before picking up the pace again.

After the show, one of the band members took the singer aside. “You know, if you learn all of this stuff, somebody is going to offer you a gig someday, and that’ll be money,” he confided. Words of wisdom, As long as there are high school kids just getting a taste of punk rock and everything related to it, a ska gig will always be a good one.

A Current-Day Roots Reggae Masterpiece From Taj Weekes & Adowa

Most reggae fans, if they didn’t know the band, would never guess that Taj Weekes & Adowa aren’t one of the golden-age bands of the 70s, contemporaries of Bob Marley, Burning Spear and the rest. Those familiar with studio recording from across the ages would notice the cleaner production quality, as opposed to what was coming out of cramped, dingy Jamdown analog rooms throughout that time (and what that stuff sounds like as overcompressed mp3s from the web). Weekes has an individualistic sound, setting his aphoristic, socially conscious lyrics to slinky, artfully orchestrated organic grooves with low-key guitar multitracks, flowing organ, incisive piano, and a tight, fat rhythm section. What sets Weekes apart is that he doesn’t just vamp out on a couple of chords – his melodies are anthemic and shapeshifting, as equally informed by psychedelic rock and the 60s as by Bob Marley. His expressive voice sails up to the rafters on occasion when he wants to really drive a point home or match the music. Weekes and the band are playing the album release show for their new one Love Herb & Reggae at the Knitting Factory on Feb 12 at around 10 for $12 in advance. Popular 90s artist Mighty Mystic opens at around 8.

The album – streaming at Storyamp – kicks off with Let Your Voice, as in “let your voice be as loud as your silence.” In an age where so much of what’s left of reggae is ditsy good-vibes hippie bs, this allusive revolutionary anthem is a caustic blast of Caribbean heat. Weekes follows that with the similarly catchy, subtly dub-tinged Life in the Red. It’s an unselfconsciously poetic look at breaking free…but for a price. “Traded my desk for convenience of life…caught dead fighting fire with a feather,’ he warns.

The sad rocksteady ballad Full Sight is another example of how Weekes’ songwriting looks back to far more sophisticated era in reggae, both musically and lyrically. Giant Beast is a vengeful anti-tyranny anthem with a mighty intro – “One day her name no longer spoken, one day her ruins to my right,” Weekes nonchalantly intones. The album has a couple of version of the single Here I Stand, a brave choice of song in the world where Boom Bye Bye still tends to be the norm rather than the exception.

You don’t need no wings to fly,” is the mantra of the soaring, sunny title track. Bullet for a Gun casts Weekes’ antiviolence message into a elegant soul-jazz influenced ballad with some hints of vintage dub. Mediocrity is an especially defiant number: “I won’t wallow in self-pity and I won’t make peace with mediocrity …I shun the comfort of compromise,” Weekes insists. More songwriters ought to make that promise.

Rebels to the Street adds gospel vocals to what could be a vintage Brixton Riots-era Aswad song. The Laws, the most Marley-esque track here, revisits age-old logic for legalizing the herb – what are we watiing for, in New York it’s impossible to walk down the street or ride the train without at least catching a whiff of the wisdom weed. The album winds up with Was It You, a love song with some sweet melodica that reminds of Augustus Pablo; the acoustic Rebel, which attests to how oppression creates “criminals;” and St. Lucia on My Mind, a fond shout-out to Weekes’ home turf in the islands. It’s hard to think of another roots reggae album this purist and smart and original released in the last few years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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