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Category: soul music

Soul Singer Alice Lee’s Long-Awaited New Album: One of 2017’s Catchiest, Most Lyrically Searing Releases

Back in the mid-zeros, soul singer Alice Lee was one of the most distinctive and individualistic artists in what was a thriving Lower East Side and Brooklyn music scene. She remains one of the most eclectic tunesmiths to emerge from there, blending jazz sophistication, trippy downtempo ambience, and a little slashing punk-funk or downtown guitar skronk into her uneasy, picturesque songs. This blog’s predecessor picked her 2005 release Lovers and Losers as one of the thousand best albums of all time. That one was sort of a mashup of Nina Simone and Fiona Apple.

In the years since then, gentrification continued to blight neighborhoods across the city, and Lee was one of the thousands driven out by the luxury-condo blitzkrieg. These days she’s been dividing her time between here and Guatemala, continuing to play her own music as well as tropicalia and jazz throughout Central America. Now, she finally has a new album, The Wheel – streaming at Bandcamp – and a a show coming on on May 25 at 9 PM Pete’s Candy Store, one of the few remaining venues that she played back in the day that’s still open.

Although there’s great elegance and nuance in her voice on these songs, the overall atmosphere is sobering and defiantly angry. Much of the material is awash in regret; the album’s best songs are searing narratives of 99-percenter struggles. She kicks things off with a swinging, lo-fi guitar-and-vocal jazz miniature, These Foolish Things: it’s over in a heartbeat, just like the affair it commemorates. The wickedly anthemic, trip-hop-tinged Where Are You My Love, a longtime concert favorite, captures Lee in the studio circa 2003 on electric piano, with Yuval Gabay on drums and Lee’s longtime producer, Pere Ubu and No Grave Like the Sea mastermind Tony Maimone on bass.David Johnson’s tersely biting Spanish guitar solo midway through matches the bittersweetness and longing in Lee’s voice as it finally rises at the end.

Most of the rest of the songs here feature Mark Schwartz on bass and Alejandro Vega on drums, with Maimone on the four-string on a handful of tracks. The blockbuster cut is the resolutely insistent Your Blues, an anthem for the era of Ferguson and Eric Garner, Lee doubletracking her blippy, distorted electric piano and judiciously resonant electric guitar:

Bend your life, break your back
For a system that bruises you
Twenty lashes in jail
When it fails you, accuses you
Don’t exist in the eyes of the law
They can do with you as they please
You stand up for yourself
And they bring you to your knees
Can’t look me in the eye
As you take your shot
The blood on your hands
Will come out in the wash
How can you stand by
Watch your brother fall and suffer
At the hands of another
How far are we from done
From disconnect and thinking we’re the only ones

Another electric piano groove, Letter to No One revisits the surreal, restless nocturnal vibe of much of Lovers & Losers:

My heart is overwhelmed
By a tide that won’t turn
I stumble forward, wondering how long
Before I wake
The key to happiness,
A secret no one else can crack
Always looking forward and
Never looking back

The album’s loopy, tricky, syncopated title track looks at the desperation of love in a time of wage slavery:

These days were meant for the dogs
You hit the blocks hard but you don’t get the job
Or you get the job but you’re full up in debt
That you spend the rest of your life trying to get ahead
…You don’t get a choice in the matter
Until you get caught

Lee revisits the theme in the briskly swinging, catchy, cynical Too Little Too Late, another big audience hit:

We go forward, two steps back
Hit play, repeat, don’t skip the track…
Watch the broken glass across the gap
Step on the line don’t let me pass the same way twice

Descent, set to an ironic downward chord progression, is Lee at her most harrowing and intense, with a creepy, tremolo-picked dreampop guitar solo:

Repetition is a curse
Save the chorus
Erase the verse
Where were you
When I was down
For the count, but not quite out
Passing ghost with no regrets
Learning to live and forget

The funky First and Sixth, another brooding nocturne, will resonate with anybody who has bittersweetly hazy memories of wee-hours hookups in what was then a (semi) affordable East Village on nights when the trains were all messed up: “Waiting on the L just out of luck, now I’m stuck at 14th St., waiting on my whiskey sour…it’s almost time for breakfast again…make no difference, hand to mouth…I don’t care if I’m the only one to get out of here alive.” This wasn’t such a long time ago, either.

Love Is a Thief, an elegant jazz waltz of sorts, dates from the early zeros and has the feel of early 60s Nina Simone blended with Velvets folk-rock: Lee plays it solo on acoustic guitar and piano. She works a psychedelically sparkling upward trajectory on the kiss-off anthem Left of Mine, brooding guitar jangle set to a funky shuffle beat. The album also includes a couple of remixes, including legendary Greenpoint producer Scotty Hard’s version of First and Sixth. It’s only May, but we may have the best album of 2017 here.

Americana Crooner Jack Grace’s Long-Awaited New Album Might Be His Best Yet

Back in the radio-and-records era, conventional wisdom was that a band’s first album was always their best. The theory was that in order to get a record deal, a group had to pull together all their most impressive songs. These days, that theory falls apart since artists can release material at their own pace rather than having to constantly deliver new product to the boss at the record label.

Still, how many artists do you know whose material is stronger than ever after twenty years of incessant touring and putting out the occasional album? Crooner/guitarist Jack Grace, arguably New York’s foremost and funniest pioneer of Americana and urban country, is one of that rare breed. His long, long awaited new Eric Ambel-produced album Everything I Say Is a Lie is arguably the best thing Grace has ever done, due out on April 28 and presumably streaming at Soundcloud at that point. Grace and his band are playing the album release show at around 8 PM on April 27 at Hifi Bar.

Interestingly, this is Grace’s most straight-ahead rock record to date: there’s plenty of C&W influence but no straight-up honkytonk this time around. It’s also more straightforwardly serious than Grace is known to be, especially onstage. As usual, the band is fantastic: a swinging rhythm section of ex-wife and Pre-War Pony Daria Grace on bass, with drummers Russ Meissner and Diego Voglino, plus Ambel contributing plenty of his signature, counterintuitive guitar and Bill Malchow on keys.

Driven by a catchy, tremoloing guitar riff, the album’s first song Burned by the Moonlight is a garage-soul number spiced with some characteristically savage lead work from Ambel. Grace’s voice has an unexpected, angry edge: “Let the wolves tear you heart out every night,” he rasps. Kanye West (I Hear That You’re the Best) is Grace at his most hilarious. “Taylor Swift, I hear you’ve got a gift, I don’t want to hear any more about it…Kardashians are so beautiful, Lindsay Lohan’s problems are so real.” As good as the lyrics are, this slowly swaying late Beatlesque anthem’s best joke is when it becomes a singalong.

Run to Me follows the kind of allusively brooding desert rock tangent that Grace was often going off on five or ten years ago. “Evil has connections we can use,” he muses. Being Poor, a song for our time if there ever was one, has a stark, rustic Steve Earle folk-blues vibe: “It’s all got you down on your knees, no power to question why.”

Bad Wind Blowing has a tense, simmering roadhouse rock sway and a souful vocal cameo from Norah Jones: “Lean against the wind or get your ass blown to the ground.” Then Grace shifts gears into wry charmer mode with the steady backbeat Highway 61 rock of I Like You.

He sings the almost cruelly sarcastic title ballad over Malchow’s Lennonesque piano; Ambel’s twelve-string guitar break is just as surreal. Again, this song’s best joke is a musical one. By contrast, the album’s most crushingly relevant cut is Get Out. “We really used to try to get out of Brooklyn, now everybody’s trying to get in,” Grace laments over a stark banjo/guitar backdrop. It’ll resonate with anybody who remembers the days (ten years ago if anybody’s counting) before every entitled, recently relocated yuppie tourist in New York was starting a band named after this city’s second-most-expensive borough.

The album closes on a similarly somber note with So We Run, an unexpected and successful detour into early 70s style psychedelic Britfolk. Good to see a guy who’s been one of the most reliably good tunesmiths in town still at it, and at the top of his game.

Brilliant Bassist Bridget Kearney Releases a Catchy, Purist Keyboard-Driven Debut Album

Bridget Kearney is the rare bass player you want to hear more of. From day one, she’s been the groove on the low strings and the source of innumerable, tersely tasty solos as the bassist in popular blue-eyed soul group Lake Street Dive. But she’s also a solo artist, and a multi-instrumentalist. On her new album Won’t Let You Down – streaming at Bandcamp – she plays guitars and keys as well. It first took shape as a studio side project, and it’s been several years in the making. Taking a momentary detour from the never-ending Lake Street Dive tour (which this year includes a stop at Prospect Park Bandshell on June 13 at 8:30 PM), Kearney leads her own band playing songs from the new album at Rough Trade on April 21 at 10 PM. Advance tix are $12.

Vocally, Kearney works the same turf as her Lake Street Dive bandmate Rachael Price, but with an airier, more breathy delivery evocative of Holly Miranda. As a tunesmith, Kearney is very eclectic, blending elements of vintage 60s soul, garage rock, Beatlesque pop, psychedelia and glam, among other styles: this is a very keyboard-driven record. It opens with the playfully scampering garage rock title track: with its cheery layers of keys, it sounds like the New Pornographers covering the Friggs. The piano ballad What Happened Today is a catchy mashup of 70s John Lennon and classic soul, sprinkled with starry keyboard textures. With its blend of swirly roller-rink organ, twinkling electric piano and blazing guitars, Serenity brings to mind Ward White’s recent adventures in Bowie-esque glamrock.

Wash Up has a brisk new wave beat, a hypnotic swirl and a couple of tantalizingly brief lead guitar breaks. Kearney makes echoey, nocturnal trip-hop out of oldschool soul in Who Are We Kidding , then multitracks her own edgy bass and guitar harmonies in the Lynchian Nashville gothic pop of Living in a Cave. It’s the album’s strongest song.

Love Doctor isn’t a seduction theme: it’s a kiss-off anthem that looks back to Bowie in his Young Americans period. Kearney breaks out her acoustic guitar for the flamenco-tinged intro to the bitterly simmering minor-key noir soul ballad Nothing Does: the Motown chorus comes out of nowhere, and is absolutely delicious.

Kearney pushes the upper limits of her voice on Daniel, a Penny Lane pop number: it’s the only place on the album where it sounds like she’s really straining to hit the notes. The final cut is the ethereal, Lennonsque ballad So Long. It’s impossible to think of a better debut album released this year so far.

Insanely Eclectic Psychedelic Brass Band Intensity from the Dirty Bourbon River Show

Considering the Butcher Knives’ and Dirty Bourbon River Show’s output on record so far, you might think that their twinbill tonight at the Knitting Factory – which starts at 8:30 PM for a $12 cover – would be a bad segue. But it isn’t.  The openers’ guitar-driven, minor-key Gogol Bordello-style Romany rock makes a good setup for the New Orleans band’s more rustically raucous, canivalesque sound.

The Dirty Bourbon River Show’s latest album, The Flying Musical Circus, is aptly titled and streaming at Bandcamp. To sum things up, the brass-fueled five-piece group tackles Balkan and circus rock, reggae, Beatlesque psychedelia, soca, mariachi, oldtimey swing and gospel and pulls it off. If there’s a style of music that they can’t play, it probably hasn’t been invented yet. The opening track, Passion, is a brassy Balkan reggae tune, the bassline held down by Jimmy Williams’ sousaphone. Waltzing along with Noah Adams’ strutting electric piano and a dixieland-flavored horn chart, The Cruel and Hollow Fate of Time Travel takes an unexpected detour down a wormhole into Sergeant Pepper-era Beatles psychedelia.

“Everybody’s coming to my party, but I’m not fucking going to that party,” Adams insists in the funky All My Friends Are Dead. Matt Thomas overdubs cheery soca sax harmonies in Knockin’ on Your Headboard: it’s about watching out for “your crazy-ass dad and your crazy-ass mama,” who’d spoil the party if they could. My Name Is Soul is a scampering, surreal turn back to Balkan circus rock: “I’m in your mouth, I’m on your tongue, but you don’t know me,” you get the picture.

Hidalgo’s Lament is an unexpectedly biting, bittersweet, slowly swaying mariachi tune with a tantalizingly brief Adams accordion solo midway through. The steamboat soul tune Poor Boy, Rich Girl is as funny as you would expect: “Every leperchaun loves gold…you’re a circus, cartwheeling with no purpose.” Shark Belly, a pulsing Romany rock anthem, is even funnier: unleash your inner ten-year-old and laugh along with Adams’ litany of obscenities, echoed by the band, on the second verse.

Nick Garrison’s snaky trombone and Scott Graves’ tumbling drums anchor Roll It Around, a high-voltage stoner Balkan brass number. The album winds up with the gospel-infused title track, awash in mighty tasty horn harmonies, Adams’ accordion swirling amidst the storm. Definitely one of the ten best and most consistently fun albums to come over the transom here this year.

Meah Pace Brings Her Blue-Flame Retro Soul Stylings to a Rare Park Slope Gig

The stage at Long Island City Bar turned out to be too small for Meah Pace the last time she played there, over Martin Luther King weekend last month. The charismatic, personable retro soul singer pounced, and shimmied, and twisted in front of her simmering six-piece band, but ultimately it was like watching a lioness in a cage. She really needs a big stage to do her thing. Until then, you can catch her in similarly intimate blue-flame mode on March 23 at 8 PM at Salzy Bar, 506 5th Ave at 13th St. in Park Slope. Take the F – or the G – to 7th Ave.

Pace’s voice is raw but refined; to compare her to Sharon Jones would not be an overstatement. The nuance and wiggles in her blue notes are in the moment rather than studied, and her band pays close attention to where she takes the crowd. That cold evening in Queens, guitarist Alec Berlin warmed up the room with a wryly haphazard intro from Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner. Then keyboardist Randy Ingram hit his echoey Fender Rhodes patch and the band launched into a slinky version of Gimme Shelter. It was as if Jagger had invited a young Tina Turner up to sing it, the two-sax line of tenorist Jeremy Udden and baritone goddess Paula Henderson punching in hard.

Pace took the sound back in time another half-decade to the mid-60s with the bouncy, swaying vintage soul ballad after that, Berlin giving it a funky pulse in tandem with bassist Jeremy Willms and drummer Greg Joseph. Then Pace’s voice got gritty as they went deep into Promised Land, the opening track on her album 11:03, part vintage 60s JBs funk, part latin soul.

Ingram’s electric piano flickered over a slow 6/8 groove as Pace brought the lights down with the gorgeously bittersweet 70s Stylistics soul jazz-tinged ballad Gracefully. Then they lit into the vampingly hypnotic clave soul groove of On My Brain and kept the nocturnal vibe going with I Wish It Would Rain, punctuated by Berln’s wall-bending acid-rock solo.

The night’s funkiest, hardest-hitting number was I Don’t Need Ya, the horns nailing a sassy go-go riff, Pace picking it up at the end with a defiant, passionate rasp. Then they brought out all the doom and despair in an absolutely spot-on reinvention of the old mid-70s Alice Cooper ballad Only Women Bleed.

Willms’ Stax/Volt riff and Berlin’s Tex-Mex phrasing anchored their Big Mama Thornton-inspired version of Hound Dog, Pace cajoling Joseph into playing a shuffle beat on the snare with just his hands; Henderson’s shivery hailstorm of a solo brought the intensity to redline. They closed the night with a motoring, expansive take of the album’s title track, Nutbush City Limits style. While Pace can sing classic covers all night long if she feels like it, and has done that for the sake of a payday, it’s always more fun to hear her originals. That’s what she’s probably going to do at the Brooklyn gig.

A Provocative, Wickedly Catchy New Album and a Rare Live Show by Nehedar

Over the past few years, Nehedar has made a name for herself as an often brilliantly lyrical, eclectic songwriter spanning the worlds of psychedelic soul and catchy urban pop. Her songs are sparkly, and fun, and full of humor. She’s a tremendously good singer, with a clear, bright voice. By contrast, her lyrics have edge, and bite, and a persistent unease. They ask more questions than they answer, and get you thinking. And she’s a big-picture person; her definitive album so far may be 2011’s Power Plant Beach, whose sunny album cover depicts a nuke plant in the background.

Her new album Hello Abyss, streaming at her music page, is arguably the most rock-oriented thing she’s done to date. and might also be the musical high point of her career. The songs’ unifying theme is escape. It’s hard to think of a more apt title for anything released under the current political climate, isn’t it? When she’s not singing harmonies in the New York rock band Fierce Love, she tends to be a creature of the studio: she doesn’t play a lot of shows on her own. Which is why the album release show on March 15 at 9 PM at Bowery Electric is a pretty big deal. Perl Wolfe – former lead singer of Bulletproof Stockings, the Hasidic Sleater-Kinney – opens the night at 8. After Nehedar’s own set, she plays with Fierce Love, then sardonic new wavers Blanket Statementstein headline at around 11. Cover is $10?

Nehedar (real name: Emilia Cataldo) plays guitar and keys, joined on the album by Fierce Love guitarists Shaul Zuckerberg and Tim Rockmore, with Craig Levy on bass and drums. The opening track, The Story is a new wave soul tune complete with wryly warpy synths and deadpan funny electronic percussion patches that contrast with the lyrics, a rugged individualist surveying the terrain from an understatedly solitary perspective.

The second cut, Catacomb, is part eco-disaster parable, part kiss-off anthem to the powers that be, sung over a counterintuitively bouncy new wave pop tune. “Got their hooks in you, made you believe that their lies are true…get your brain back!” she insists. “The lights are bright, but it’s monochrome.”

Shedding Skin is a mashup of anthemic powerpop and trippy dub reggae with some Middle Eastern spice. How rises with echoes of gospel and oldschool soul into a big power ballad. Is it cynical to want no more than to be able to wake up into a world that doesn’t make you want to hide under your pillow, Nehedar asks us – or, is that merely being realistic?

“You’re never too young go know which way not to go,” she asserts in the surrealistically lilting Happy Birthday, with its boomy, brushed snaredrum beat and dancing bass. You’re Beautiful When You Fall Apart is a big rocker with a 60s psychedelic undercurrent, just like the following cut, Fear and Love, which is more poppy: “Let’s see the monster underneath the bed!” she challenges with irrepressible cheer. “”I’m gonna take you in the back room, show you all the monsters I keep in the rear!”

The album’s most striking and strongest track is The Grudge, a snarling psych-pop broadside: “It’s like the bottom fell out and left me in a civil war,” she laments. The final numbers here are the let’s-bury-the-hatchet ballad Tonight Tonight and Sotah, which rises from eerie folk noir to a big, roaring, angst-fueled, Santana-esque guitar anthem, with the album’s most dramatic, intense vocals. 

Carsie Blanton Charms and Provokes at the Mercury

Tuesday night at the Mercury, New Orleans bandleader Carsie Blanton was at the top of her hilarious game. She makes good albums, but nothing compares to seeing her onstage. The woman is devastatingly funny, and politically spot-on, and charismatic to the extreme. Decked out in a sassy vintage red dress, fronting her skintight four-piece group, the inventor of the sexy board game Bango kept the audience in stitches when she wasn’t taking requests or running through a mix of torchy soul, swing and retro rock from her latest album So Ferocious.

One of the funniest moments of the night was when she explained the backstory for the bouncy kiss-off anthem Fat and Happy. As you would expect, she’s an Ella Fitzgerald fan, but she winced at how cheesy some of the choir arrangements on Fitzgerald’s albums from the 40s were. “So I thought, what if I took a song and ended it with the band going, ‘Oooohhh, FUUUUUUCK,” Blanton grinned. The band – keyboardist Pat Firth, bassist Joe Plowman and drummer Nicholas Falk – did exactly that, slowly and in perfect three-part harmony. The crowd roared.

“My friends said take the high road, turn the other cheek,” Blanton elaborated with a grin, “But I’m a revenge-taking kind of person.” So the tale of a selfish dude hell-bent on piggybacking on Blanton’s success resonated even more: “Will you still be whining like a suckling pig, or will you be trying to get on the gig?” she sneered.

She’d opened with a simmering blue-flame soul song that Amy Winehouse would have traded her stash to have had the chance to sing. “You don’t scare me,” was the refrain: no joke. Blanton followed that with Scoundrel, a bouncy early 60s-style John Waters soul-pop number and then the hazy, summer-evening soul of Hot Night. She explained that she’d written most of that one in Madrid on vacation, sulking in her unairconditioned B&B, serenaded by street noise until she realized how lucky she was to be there at all.

Throughout the set, Blanton worked the dynamics up and down, more than a tinge of smoke in her voice, through the gentle 6/8 torch-soul ballad Loving Is Easy to a wryly propulsive number from her Idiot Heart album, a typical surreal/crazy/creepy New Orleans moment when a guy tried to pick her up with the line, “Why not, we’re all gonna die one day.”

The first of the audience requests, Chicken grew out an idea that had stuck in her head, she said, which she’d dismissed as silly until she wrote the song…and it turned out to be one of her biggest crowd-pleasers. She followed Money in the Bank – a slinky mashup of sly, low-key Lou Reed and oldschool soul – with another novelty song, Moustache, a newschool Motown number. Blanton revealed that she actually has no issues with facial hair on dudes – it’s just that this one particular fuzzy upper lip turned out to be a big mistake.

Twister, a brand-new number, brought back the sultry/icy vibe of the night’s opening song. inspired by the recent tornado that hit her hometown, contemplating how a new romance could be altered by that sort of calamity. To Be Known made a poignant change of pace, part vintage BeeGees angst, part Jimmy Webb art-song. She kept pretty low-key with The Animal I Am, inspired by a badass canine friend who chews her underwear and, like her owner, is a general hellraiser. Then the group picked up the pace a little with Backbone, a snide dis at a sappy guy who’s probably too lazy to show a little gumption.

Blanton warned the crowd that she’d save the best for last, and she sort of did. It was a brand-new song where everybody in the band changed instruments. Pandemonium ensued as she railed about how everything went completely haywire at an election-night party, and how history reminds that back in the early 30s, lists of forbidden nations and ethnicities were being compiled just like they are now. The crowd begged for another encore but didn’t get one. Blanton’s tour continues at the Lancaster Roots & Blues Festival at the Ware Center, 42 N Prince St. in Lancaster, PA tonight, Feb 25 at 7:45 PM.

A Playful Change of Pace for New Orleans Chanteuse Carsie Blanton

On one hand, for Carsie Blanton to put out a record of Lynchian retro rock is kind of like the Squirrel Nut Zippers making a heavy metal album. But the Zippers are great musicians – who knows, maybe they’d pull it off. Turns out Blanton is just as adept at allusive, nocturnal early 60s Nashville pop as the oldtimey swing she made her mark in. Her latest album, So Ferocious, is streaming at her webpage and available as a name-your-price download, the best advertising she could possibly want for her upcoming show at 7 PM on Feb 21 at the Mercury. Cover is $10.

Although it’s a switch for her, Blanton is just as badass and funny as she is out in front of a swing band. She sings and plays uke here, backed by guitarist Pete Donnelly, keyboardist Pat Firth, bassist Joe Plowman and drummer Jano Rix. One of the funniest tracks is Fat and Happy, a return to Blanton’s oldtimey days: the theme is “just wait and see,” and the way it turns out is too LMAO to give away.

Fever Dream builds a surreal New Orleans after-the-storm scenario, darkly spare bass paired against sepulchral toy piano. Hot Night offers a bouncy, energetic contrast, spiced with a distant brass chart; if Springsteen really wanted to write an oldschool soul song, he would have done it like this. Another nocturnal soul ballad, Lovin Is Easy pairs a spare string section against similarly low-key electric piano and Blanton’s unselfconsciously matter-of-fact, tender vocals.

Ravenous, a chirpy look back at adolescent friskiness, has a roller-rink charm that brings to mind both the Kinks and the Cucumbers, a mashup that Blanton revisits on the understatedly biting title track.. She turns the clock back anothe twenty years in Scoundrel, a coy Phil Spector pop tale about a couple of troublemakers.

Musically speaking, the album’s best track is probably The Animal I Am, a defiant individualist’s anthem set to artsy Jeff Lynne-style Nashville gothic pop. The album’s darkest track is To Be Known, part brooding Jimmy Webb chamber pop, part early BeeeGees existentialist lament. “Isn’t it al you ever wanted, to be alone?” Blanton ponders. Or is it “To be known?”. There’s also Vim and Vigor, a funnier take on what Amy Winehouse was up to before she self-destructed. Download this irrepressibly fun, dynamic mix and get to know one of the real genuine individualists in retro rock and many other styles as well.

Spanglish Fly Bring New Relevance to SOB’s

Spanglish Fly packed the dancefloor at SOB’s last night. There would have been more people out there if had the club had moved more of the tables out, although plenty of the diners eventually ended up hitting the floor. For the rest of the posse who’d come out on one of the coldest nights of the year, Spanglish Fly’s psychedelic blend of classic salsa and oldschool soul kept everybody listening.

Spanglish Fly’s irrepressible sense of fun matches their originality. On one hand, they work a well-loved New York style of music: boogaloo, the magical Afro-Puerto Rican blend that first fermented back in the 60s in Spanish Harlem. On the other hand, Spanglish Fly are pushing the envelope. Just as Chicha Libre would take a theme by, say, Erik Satie and make a psychedelic cumbia out of it – and make it work – Spanglish Fly made a slinky dancefloor smash out of a familiar Woody Guthrie song. Bandleader/trumpeter Jonathan Goldman explained that his new version of This Land Is Your Land – retitled Esta Tierra – celebrated the same idea of of a world without borders, and without anti-immigrant bigotry, that Guthrie envisioned. And if there’s ever been a time to fight fire with fire with that idea, that time is now. That got the most applause of the night.

They set up that number with Ojala-Inshallah, aloft on a blast of tight, heavyweight minor-key horns over a careening clave pulse, spiced with Kenny Bruno’s tumbling Afro-Cuban piano.  As singer Palome Munoz put it, it’s about wishing for a better world. They’d gotten the night started with Boogaloo Shoes, trombonist Vera Kempster taking the first of several spine-tingling, uneasily sliding solos – she felt the room and then went with it.  Bruno brought both gospel and postbop jazz to Micaela, a slithery clave soul number.

With her powerful low register, Munoz brought the lights down to every ounce of noir in Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good. The band made straight up salsa dura out of it at the end, with another over-the-cliff trombone solo and then a jungle of polythythms with the four-man percussion section -drummer Arei Sekiguchi, conguero Dylan Blanchard, bongo player Ronnie Roc and timbalero Teddy Acosta – going full steam. 

A tight, terse instrumental version of Chain of Fools opened with a machinegunning bongo solo while Rafael Gomez ran that classic bass riff, Bruno adding rich washes of organ as the horns and percussion blazed overhead. The show hit a peak with La Clave e’mi Bugalu and its evocation of the classic 70s Fania era salsa. And that was just the first set.  SOB’s has been the band’s home base lately, at least when they aren’t doing weekly residencies at Barbes. Watch this space for their next big dance shindig. 

Three Indian-Influenced Bands Play the Year’s Best Triplebill So Far in the East Village

What’s the likelihood of seeing three of the most fascinating, individualistic, often spine-tingling bands in town, all on the same bill – fronted by three similarly distinctive, brilliant singers, no less? And at a good venue with terrific sound – Drom, in the East Village – rather than at some scuzzy Bushwick bar that nobody outside the neighborhood can get to since the trains aren’t running on the weekend?

It happened five days ago on a triplebill put together by fiery, dramatic art-rock violinist/singer Rini and her band, who played in between swoony psychedelic soul singer/bandleader Shilpa Ananth and titanic spacerock band Humeysha. Although the three acts were stylistically very different, the common link – beyond sheer fun and breathtaking musical chops – was that each draws on classical Indian melodies for inspiration.

Although the club wasn’t packed, there was a good turnout considering that the show coincided with the flashmobs out at Kennedy Airport protesting Trump’s racist anti-Muslim edict. Ananth was the subtlest act on the bill. Her songs shifted shape, sometimes gently, sometimes dramatically as her voice rose, singing in English, Hindi and Tamil. Her opening neosoul anthem had an early 80s trip-hop pulse that got funkier as it hit a peak, driven by Khairul Aiman’s purposeful bass and Kazuhiro Odagiri’s drums. Multi-keyboardist Takahiro Izumikawa shifted artfully between echoey, surrealisitcally nocturnal electric piano, swirly organ and some wryly warped P-Funk tone-bending when the ambience got totally psychedelic.Ananth swayed, eyes closed, lost in the music most of the time. Guitatist Luis D’Elias got to fire off the most electrifying solos of the set: long, menacing, reverb-iced cumbia and Middle Eastern-tinged passages, and later a blisteirng blast of bluesmetal. Tabla player Sai Raman added texture and kept the suspenseful groove going when the songs got quiet; trumpeter Bobby Spellman added crystalline Miles Davis-influenced lines, sometimes harmonizing with alto sax player Syl DuBenion.

Ananth brought to mind Anita O’Day at her most playful and plush, then went into starry, unselfconsciously tender mode with her melismatics over an emphatic, trip hop-ish beat. As the music swayed behind her, she went off-script midway through the night’s most enigmatically aching ballad to explain that in Hindi, just as in English, finding a home means finding a space, and that the time is now for us to defend ours,  a message that resounded with the audience. Ananth’s next show is Feb 23 at 7 PM, an acoustic set with tabla and piano at Kava Shteeble, 94 Ralph Ave in Bushwick; take the J to Gates Ave..

Rini a.k.a Harini S Raghavan delivered the night’s most intense performance. The Chennai, India-born frontwoman leads what has to be the most multicultural band in town. Guitarist Aleif Hamdan is from Jakarta; bassist Achal Murthy hails from Luxembourg. Drummer Tancredi Lo Cigno is Italian and sax/electronic wind instrument player Íñigo Galdeano Lasheras is Spanish. Whatever language they speak, it all adds up to fire. Their jaunty opening number faked everybody out: from there, the band dug in and the storm began.

With her powerful, often ferocious mazzo-soprano and dancing, carnatically-influenced violin lines, Raghavan led the group through a dynamic set that blended Trans-Siberian Orchestra pomp with distantly macabre early ELO and even more towering cinematics. Somewhere there is a video game franchise or a postapocalyptic film screaming out for this woman to write its soundtrack.

Staying in sync with an electronic track – in this case, mostly loops of piano and ambience – is difficult, but the band stayed on track as Raghavan’s voice dipped and lept and bent as the music careened and slunk along, through a swaying heroic overture, a catchy bhangra riff transposed to trip-hop, knifes-edge Middle Eastern themes, a detour into menacing, wah-driven Doctors of Madness-style psychedelia and finally a galloping mini-raga. What a blissfully adrenalizing set. Rini are scheduled to rip the roof off Silvana on Feb 17 at 9.

Humeysha were the most epic band of the night – and distinguished themselves with the shortest songs of any epic band anywhere in the world. They always leave you wanting more. Frontman/guitarist Zain Alam sang in a strong, expressive chorister’s baritone and played through a vast wash of digital delay and reverb, matched by lead guitarist Adrien Defontaine. Alam’s brother Shayan went high up the fretboard of his bass, Peter Hook style as drummer John Snyder anchored the spacious sonics, at one point taking an unexpected and deliciously artful shift where he played the most of the song on the offbeat against the rest of the group.

Their only really lighthearted number brought to mind the Smiths in a sardonic moment; many of the other songs could have fit easily on a Church album from the early 90s. Defontaine hung out around the 18th fret for most of the set, firing off meteor showers of notes and taking the occasional lightning-bolt run down the scale. Where the night’s first two acts were all over the place stylistically, these guys set a mood and launched it as far and as deep as they could take it, reinventing a bunch of centuries-old carnatic riffs in the meantime. At the end of the night, the crowd screamed for an encore; the frontman explained that with his brother being new in the band, they didn’t have any more material worked up. They’re at Brooklyn Bazaar on Feb 15 at around 9ish.