New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: album review

A Rare NYC Appearance by Indo-Pakistani Art-Rock/Metal Warriors the Mekaal Hasan Band

The Mekaal Hasan Band sound like no other group on the planet. The fiery, guitar-fueled art-rock band blend south Asian, Middle Eastern and global metal influences into their distinctive, rhythmically tricky sound. Don’t let their constant tempo and metric shifts or lead guitarist Hasan’s Berklee background give you the impression that what they play is prog. Their latest album, Andholan – streaming at Spotify – is packed with unexpected dynamics, snarling melodies and purposeful drive, taking flight on the wings of frontwoman Sharmistha Chatterjee’s soaring vocals. They’re making a rare New York appearance on August 30 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub, and they’re very popular with a Punjabi audience, so $15 advamce tix are very highly recommended.

The opening track, Gunghat kicks off with a bitingly flurrying, chromatically menacing guitar-and-flute intro before Gino Banks’ hard-hitting drums kick in and Chatterjee’s uneasily intense, elegantly ornamented voice enters, while Hasan and flutist Mohammad Ahsan Papu build a shiveringly artsy, metallic backdrop. Champakalli builds around a creepy bell-like motif before Hasan puts the bite on and they make almost gleeful metal out of it; then they go back and forth with an ominous sway.

Chaterjee builds toward imploring heights over a surealistically chiming, watery background as Bheem gets underway, then the band picks up steam, like a more darkly metallic update on classic 70s Nektar, the flute adding droll touches, almost like portamento synth. Hasan’s garish squall contrasts with Chaterjee’s stark leaps and bounds and the terse, new wave-tinged pulse of Sayon: imagine the Police with metal guitar and a Pakistani influence. Maalkauns is both the hardest-hitting soccer-stadium fist-pumper and the most distinctively Pakistani numbers here.

The album’s best song, Sindhi brings back the eerie bell-tone ambience of the second track – Hasan’s distinctively ringing, reverbtoned guitar textures, at least when he isn’t getting cheesy putting the bite on, anyway, are nothing short of delicious. Mehg opens as an airy mood piece that quickly gives way to a crushing stomp, flute and voice sailing above it insistently. Kinarey, the album’s final cut, is a diptych. Based on a raga etude, the song shifts through pensive piano and vocals to a lonesome flute interlude and back. It’s rare that you hear a band that so seamlessly bridges the gap between Indo-Pakistani music and rock, let alone one with such a nuanced yet powerful singer.

The Haunting, Mysterious King Raam Brings His Iranian Art-Rock Anthems to the Mercury

If you’ve heard of King Raam, believe the hype. The Teheran-based bandleader, who with the rest of his group plays pseudonymously, is sort of the Iranian Nick Cave. Who is this theatrical, intense Persian-language art-rock singer? He’s in his forties, born in the party city of Bushehr, and has been back and forth to the US several times. He’s collaborated with Johnny Azari and the late Ali Eskandarian, among others. He has a gram account, so it’s certain that the CIA and Mossad know who he is. He and the band are bringing their eclectic, often hauntingly artsy sounds to the Mercury at midnight on August 29; $12 advance tix are still available at the box office, open Tues-Sat from noon to 6 PM.

Iranian music in general tends to be very good and has been for centuries: even pop artists from the 60s and 70s like Googoosh are arguably more interesting and tuneful than their American counterparts. Most of King Raam’s latest album, A Day & a Year, is streaming at Soundcloud along with much of his ominously melodic, often psychedelic back catalog. The band doesn’t waste any time getting off to an powerful start with a slow, foreboding minor-key anthem, Pegasus, bringing to mind similarly brooding global acts like the Russian group Auktyon and Mexican legends Jaguares. The multitracked guitars roar, the keys twinkle uneasily and the drums have a big-room sound: a lot of care and smart production ideas went into this. English translations of the lyrics weren’t available as of press time, but consider that the song is about a winged horse and then do the math.

The moody Closing Credits (Titrazhe Payan), just pensive vocals and simple guitar arpeggios until the final crescendo, bears an even stronger resemblance to Jaguares and that band’s frontman Saul Hernandez‘s solo work. The album’s third track, Tehran has a wistful sway, part folk-rock as the Church might have done it at their peak, part Spottiswoode. The Church resemblance recurs, but more spaciously and sparely, in Distant Tomorrows, featuring guest crooner Makan Ashgevari. The Return follows, with a big, cinematic, rather triumphantly orchestrated sweep: it’s the most stadium rock-oriented track here. Its 70s folk-pop counterpart is Crosswind, one of the later cuts.

Missing Squares has a shuffle groove, surfy reverb guitars and a brass section – another Jaguares soundalike, more or less. A City Without Gates sets the spare quality of Tehran to a more propulsive, even catchier groove, with some of the album’s strongest vocals. The band brings things down with the echoey, dub-tinged piano-based Resurrection and then follows with Salvador, which rises from a rather upbeat, guitar-fueled neo-Motown drive to a swing groove and then pure Lynchian menace.

A Day Will Come is the most gorgeously jangly, bittersweet number on the album – it could be vintage early 70s Al Stewart with better vocals and production. Deja Vu, with its stomping drums, funk tinges and propeller-blade guitars, is a duet with Iranian blues artist Behzad Omrani.  The final cut is the echoey, muted piano ballad Since You’ve Been Gone.

In terms of pure tunefulness, this is one of the half-dozen best rock albums released in 2015. How horribly sad that the citizens of the nation that for centuries was the cultural capital of the world have been forced to literally go underground to enjoy music like this since the fall of the Shah (and he was no picnic either). And what a fantastic thing that artists like King Raam have made their way to the US. If anyone deserves asylum citizenship, it’s this guy and the rest of the guys who play with him.

Ravi Shavi Bring Their Fun Update on Retro Rock and Soul to South Williamsburg

“You guys must love Radio Birdman,” the e-zine publisher and future blogger grinned.

“Huh? Who’s Radio Birdman?” the Disclaimers‘ frontman and guitarist Dylan Keeler responded, perplexed.

This was back in 2001 or so. The Disclaimers – esteemed in New York but criminally unknown outside of town – had just wrapped up their ferociously tuneful set at the now long-gone C-Note on the Lower East Side with a menacingly stomping, chromatically-fueled garage-punk hit. Which was a dead ringer for the Australian band…except that nobody in the Disclaimers had ever heard of Radio Birdman.

The punchline here is that you have to be careful attributing influences to bands or musicians. The wheel gets reinvented sometimes. So it’s probably fair to say that while Rhode Island band Ravi Shavi are often a dead ringer for sardonic 90s cult favorites Railroad Jerk, it’s also possible that they never heard of that group. What they share with them is a love for retro rock and soul sounds and a trash-talking sense of humor. Where Railroad Jerk blended atonal indie-ness into their 60s-influenced mashup, Ravi Shavi infuse theirs with lots and lots of reverb and more of a punk edge. Clear Plastic Masks are a good comparison – and a more likely influence. But you never know. Ravi Shavi have a gig at Don Pedro’s at 8:30ish on August 29 and a debut album streaming at Bandcamp.

Frontman Rafay Rashid works a sly come-on vibe on the opening track, the vampy two-chord Indecisions. Bloody Opus is a punk rock vignette with a Modern Lovers reference at the end. Guitarist Nick Politelli makes playful soul/garage/funk out of lots of ornate 7th chords on Hobbies, with a little Chuck Berry thrown in as well. Accidental takes liberties with a familiar Motown-style tune – the band rips the dance out of it and does it as four-on-the-floor rock with a little punk snottiness.

“I need a place to crash tonight, I need a place to be,” Rashid implores in Local News. Amphetamine – an original, not the Steve Wynn classic – has a Stonesy growl pushed along by bassist Bryan Fieldin and drummer Andrew Wilmarth – when the chorus kicks in, twin reverb guitars going full tilt, it’s pure sonic redemption.

Old Man rips off Dylan’s Just Like a Woman – which might be deliberate, and a joke. Problems – no, not a Sex Pistols cover – is the album’s best track, a shuffling, chord-chopping latin soul number: “Yeah, you had a lotta problems at home,” is the mantra. But there’s a happy ending. Critters has a strutting, practically disco groove: “Who’ll shoot the ones that love you?” is the operative question. ??? The album winds up with the redundantly titled Vacation Holiday – which may also be a joke, alternating between an anxious soul pulse and meat-and-potatoes bar-band rock. This isn’t heavy music, but it’s a lot of fun.

Figli Di Madre Ignota: One of Europe’s Funniest and Funnest Bands

Figli Di Madre Ignota (Italian for “Nobody’s Children,” more or less) are hilarious. The Milan-based circus rock band’s most obvious reference point is Gogol Bordello, but although there’s a frenetic Romany punk side to their sound, they’re more heavily influenced by Balkan and Turkish music. Some of their lyrics are in English, and those have the kind of surreal humor you would expect in the styles they play. But their Italian lyrics are the bomb, full of sarcastic puns, double entendres and intricate rhyme schemes. Their latest album, Bellydancer – streaming at Soundcloud – is a party in a box. If you consider yourself a fun person, you need to know about it – which is why it’s on this page today, over a year after these friendly people sent it here.

The obvious thought before writing this was, is this band still alive or did they go to Lynyrd Skynyrd Land? Happily, they are very much alive, and flourishing, and playing the Offenburg Brewery Festival in Pietra Ligure, Italy at 10 PM on August 29. The album’s first track is Istanbul, which rocks out a menacing chromatic riff – at halfspeed or quarterspeed, this could be doom metal, but this irrepressible band won’t settle for doom. The title track – in English – adds Mediterranean flavor to big 80s stadium-rock theatrics, fueled by the twin guitars of Marco “Pampa” Pampaluna and Massimiliano “Pitone” Unali. “If all you dancers were the resistance, girl, we’d need no war, no revolution,” frontman Stefano “Iasko” Iascone shouts.

The metaphorically charged Mediterranean Voodoo, built around a searing Turkish guitar riff over a tricky dance rhythm, contemplates the weight of centuries of history, much of it ugly. One of the album’s funniest songs, Escargantua, makes merciless fun of the French: their food fixation, literary pretentions and imperialist tendencies. It’s akin to an Italian take on Les Sans Culottes. Here’s a rough translation of the first verse:

Look, there’s Flaubert eating camembert
With D’Alembert, but Diderot
What is he doing? He’s drinking Pernod to death, with Hugo
“Leave some for me,” Hercule Poirot screams to him
“But you don’t even exist! Everybody knows that,”
Voltaire and Rousseau tell him

Sex Music Pasta is sort of the band’s theme song: it’s a delicious, chromatically bristling Balkan dancefloor stomp, Iascone leading a blazing trumpet section as the guitars roar and a cimbalom ripples eerily in the background. Guest Valentina Cariulo’s edgy violin drives Show Me the Way, which rises from dubwise Balkan reggae to a deliriously pulsing dance. Alternativo, a minor-key disco number, makes fun of trendoids and wannabes and is another really funny one. Another rough translation:

A little savings to live on
You play vinyl and you hang out backstage
What is fair is fair if
You choose not to choose

Tagliatella Punk is a swaying, electrified tarantella, talking truth to power about the timeworn bread-and-circuses situation at home:

Christmas movie releases, and radioactive waste,
Government crises, and celebrity gossip
Money for tanks but not for the earthquake victims…

Caravan Petrol follows a similarly edgy, bouncy tangent. Guest chanteuse Francesca Sottocasa sings Vegan in the Fridge, a wryly satirical go-go number and a slap at extremists from everywhere on the spectrum. But dudes, do you really have to put the vegan in there with the klansman and the theocons and Dianetics?

The album winds up with A Me Non Piace Niente (I Don’t Like Anything), a riotous early 21st century broadside directed at reality tv, social media, “dj culture,” trash fiction, plastic surgery, you name it. “The truth about stupid people is that you can measure them in inches,” Iascone observes. This slightly Beatlesque tarantella punk number has to be one of the best songs released in any language in the past few years – as is this album. Why was it not covered here earlier? Um…blame that computer crash here last spring.

Allegra Levy Invents Her Own Classic Vocal Jazz Songcraft

Singer and jazz composer Allegra Levy is a big-picture person. Her debut album Lonely City – streaming at Spotify – is less about the absence of affection and those who might provide it than it is about fullscale alienation. On a philosophical level, this New York jazz stylist captures the soul-crushing reality of a city where jazz artists under 40 are a rarity. On one level, there’s no lack of an indigenous talent base, as there should be in a city of ostensibly eight million. On the other, even native-born artists like Levy have never faced such a rigorous challenge simply paying the bills. Maybe that’s why she jumped at the chance to do a longterm Hong Kong gig last year. Singing in a cool, protean, enigmatic alto with a talented band behind her, she’s playing Cornelia Street Cafe on August 18 at 8:30 PM; cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum.

What sets Levy apart from the hundreds of women scatting around with microphones is that she writes her own songs: every number on the album is an original, no small achievement. The opening track is a sophisticated, swinging take on a cabaret sound that goes back to the 30s. “Anxiety, stay the hell away from me!” Levy warns, guitarist Steve Cardenas taking a ratber furtive solo that tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker picks up more lightheartedly. The snide I Don’t Want to Be in Love has mambo tinges and a scampering groove fueled by drummer Richie Barshay, trumpeter John Bailey and pianist Carmen Staaf: “Someone wake me from this nightmare!” Levy insists.

She opens the early 70s-style soul-jazz ballad Everything Green with some balmy vocalese, a trick intro as it turns out: as Mark Feldman’s violin dances overhead, Levy musing about carving out a safe space amidst the stress. “I don’t want to die alone,” is the mantra on the outro.

A New Face works a familiar, vampy postbop latin swing, Levy dipping into the lows with some clever wordplay: “Antiquity is where I long to be, take me back to our ancient history,” she smiles. She goes in the other direction on the languid Why Do I: “Why do I stumble when you say something humble, or you fidget or you mumble,”Levy ponders, and follows the tangent down from there.

“Time has treated me a bit too coldly,” Levy admits in A Better Day, a study in how a band can resist the temptation to just cut loose and swing the hell out of a song: it’s fun to hear how it inches that way, little by little, Levy adding some jaunty, clear-voiced scatting. The album’s tour de force is the melismatic, noir-tinged ballad I’m Not Okay: Levy’s damaged existentialist heroine looks straight back to Blossom Dearie, vibewise if not stylistically.

Clear-Eyed Tango (as opposed to the blurry-eyed kind, one supposes) is closer to circus rock, or, say, the sardonic Coney Island phantasmagoria of Carol Lipnik, Feldman adding an aptly menacing solo. The album’s title track blends clave jazz with some unexpected Asian flavor, “Drowning in the crowd of the hungry and the persevering…what is this goal that we’re all trying to battle for?” Levy wants to know. Our Lullaby is a head-scratcher – what guy wants to rest his head on a girl’s knee? The final cut is The Duet, a gorgeous chamber jazz ballad fueled by bassist Jorge Roeder’s ambered bowing. On one level, Levy is as retro as they get. On another, the world is overdue for how much fresh air she’s breathing into a time-tested idiom. Those who like the classics won’t find her hopelessly lost in the hashtag generation; likewise, those from this generation who might think what she does is dated are in for a serious wake-up call.

Dark Country Band the Whiskey Charmers Debut with a Killer Album

Detroit band the Whiskey Charmers play Twin Peaks C&W. It’s dark and intriguing and draws on classic 1960s country music, but also jangly rock and several noir styles from across the decades. Frontwoman/guitarist Carrie Shepard has a strong yet soft and utterly enigmatic voice. While she doesn’t sound anything like Tammy Wynette, she’s coming from the same place emotionally, world-weary beyond her years, keeping her cards close to her vest. Guitarist Lawrence Daversa plays with edge and bite and a very distinctive sense of melody which manages to be counterintuitive to the extreme yet wickedly tuneful – he always leaves you guessing what’s coming around the bend, and it always ends up working out. Their fantastic new album is streaming at their webpage.

Shepard’s strums a lush, nocturnal blanket of acoustic guitar, Daversa interspersing his bluesy accentts as Elevator gets underway. It seems to be a ghost story – in a footrace, the dead always win. Vampire, a creepy southwestern gothic bolero, also puts a cleverly sardonic spin on an old legend: yeah, this guy is out for blood, but the girl doesn’t give a damn. It’s the catchiest (no pun intended) track on the album, Daversa’s Lynchian twang leads reverberating over the dancing rhythm section.

Straight & Narrow weaves an undercurrent of heartbreak into a darkly familiar oldtime gospel theme: it’s akin to Iris DeMent taking a detour into Appalachian gothic. The band follows that with Neon Motel Room, an eerily shuffilng outlaw ballad that’s all the more relevant in an era when renegade cops are blowing innocent people away every time you turn around. They revisit that vibe, musically speaking anyway, a little later with Can’t Leave

C Blues is an elegant, low-key country blues lament. Parlor Lights mashes up a haunting Bessie Smith-style blues ballad with ominous trainwhistle slide guitar: “Turn off the open road, there’s an end in sight,” Shepard intones, letting the subtext speak for itself. Sidewinder follows a stark, loping Hank Williams sway until Daversa’s snarling electric lead kicks in with the rest of the band; the guy Shepard’s referring to in the title is a real snake.

The album winds up with the simply titled Waltz, a nocturne that could be an early Bob Wills number. If this is the only album they ever make, it’ll have a cult audience for decades. Obviously, they’ve got more songs than this; let’s hope they record them someday. The Whiskey Charmers spend a lot of time on the road: their next club gig is on August 19 at 8 PM at Small’s, 10339 Conant in Hamtramck, Michigan; cover is $7 ($10 for ages 18-20).

The Balkan Clarinet Summit Album: A Moody, Dynamic, Adrenalizing Treat

One of the most enjoyable albums to come over the transom here in recent months is the Balkan Clarinet Summit, streaming at Spotify. Recorded during a series of concerts in Romania and Greece in 2012, it combines the talents of virtuoso clarinetists from all over Europe: Macedonia, Serbia, Moldavia, Turkey, Germany, Bulgaria and Switzerland, testament to Balkan music’s massive rise in popularity. If this blog gets its way, it’ll soon be as popular as cumbia! Wolfgang Pöhlmann, director of the Goethe Institute in Athens, brought in Claudio Puntin and Steffen Schorn to lead the project. In turn, they brought in their fellow clarinetists Stavros Pazarentsis, Slobodan Trkulja, Sergiu Balutel, Oğuz Büyükberber and Orlin Pamukov. Each artist contributes two original numbers, soon to be part of a documentary film by Horacio Alcala as well.

As you’ve doubtlessly figured out by now, this is no ordinary wind ensemble. While the dynamics range from whispery and suspenseful to towering and majestic, the arrangements are more lush and symphonic than you would expect in this kind of music: the group is tight beyond belief. There are plenty of wild, rather feral moments, though, beginning right off the bat with Pazarentsis’ moodily dancing improvisation that opens his first number, Nostalgia, a shapeshifting diptych of sorts.

Balutel contributes a tricky Turkish-flavored dance that shifts abruptly between major and minor. Trkulja’s first contribution is one of the more classically-oriented numbers here, a long, almost impreceptibly crescendoing sonata with a terse, jazz-inflected solo by Puntin. Pamukov’s Severniaski Tanc, by contrast, follows a kinetic, metrically thorny, bracingly chromatic Bulgarian folk theme.

If Schorn’s Colors of Istanbul is to be believed, it’s a gloomy, grey city, depicted via his darkly danciung leads against a drony backdrop that only picks up at the end. Nostalgic Dances, a mini-suite, alternates between a similar mood amd pinpoint-precise klezmer-tinged flair. Tyran’s Daughter is one of the most stunning tracks here, another mini-suite that moves through apprehensively snaky solos to a danse macabre that becomes more and more menacing as the harmonies grow more otherworldly.

Balutel’s lickety-split, microtonally-inflected phrasing takes centerstage on Breaza, an otherwise lighthearted oompah tune. Pazarentsis also shows off wickedly precise chops on one of the album’s most exhilirating tracks, a bristling chromatic suite dedicated to his Macedonian hometown, where he runs a music venue. Puntin’s Poeme, true to its title, follows a nebulous, amorphous trajectory with its misty, aching, long-tone chromatic phrases. The album winds up with Trkulja’s Pitagorino Oro, a sizzling feast of microtonal melismas, chromatics and dizzying counterpoint.

There’s also a lively, jazzy clarinet-and-bass clarinet strut and a Serbian dance with some droll hip-hop and electronic glitches. When you stream this, also be aware that the seventh track is a joke. There’s nothing wrong with your headphones, and there’s no need to reload the page, it’s just Puntin having some random fun all by himself in the studio with his gadgets. Look for this one on the best albums of 2015 page at the end of the year.

NASA’s Spectacular Bella Gaia Multimedia Extravaganza Makes Its Brooklyn Debut on August 30

Did you know that in the state of Florida, you can get fired from the State Department of Environmental Protection for mentioning global warming? The official rightwing-approved term for it, as the coastline recedes and the waters rise, is “nuisance flooding.” Which leads to the question of what’s next – requiring a weatherman to use the more palatable “wet air” instead of “rain?”

That’s just one example of how the extreme right is hell-bent on directing the conversation away from rising temperatures around the world (you’d think that considering how much waterfront property they own, they’d be hell-bent on protecting it, but that’s typical Republican cognitive dissonance). On the realistic side of the equation, the scientists at NASA are very concerned about global warming and its potentially apocalyptic consequences, and in an intriguing and very captivating stroke of theatricality, they’ve come up with the lavish multimedia project Bella Gaia. An experience suitable for the whole family, it utilizes video imagery of our changing Earth taken from outer space alongside dance and a wildly eclectic, cinematic live musical score in order to get people to pay attention to the simple message that if we don’t stop the rise in global temperatures, we can pretty much kiss the world goodbye. The complete Balla Gaia experience comes to Broooklyn Bowl on August 30 at 7:30 PM; cover is $10, which gets you not just the film and projections but also the dancers and band.

The soundtrack album – streaming at Spotify – a lavish, majestic mashup of global sounds, is often nothing short of breathtaking: if the visuals come anywhere close to matching it, the experience could be an awful lot of fun. It opens with Living Universe, a brightly waltzing, sparkling main theme lit up with composer/bandleader Kenji Williams’ effects-laden violin multitracks alongside Kristin Hoffmann’s soaring, passionate, enveloping vocalese and balletesque piano over percussionist Deep Singh’s hypnotic groove. Like the other themes here, it’s a big, sweeping piece of music that sounds like a whole symphony orchestra rather than just the work of three musicians. Yumi Kurosawa’s koto adds otherworldly, spiky textures before it fades down elegantly to just Hoffmann’s piano.

Singh layers sitar, harmonium and mystically rustling percussion on the second number, Orbital, a dramatic, dynamically-charged blend of Indian classical and modern-day film music; Hoffmann’s careful, precise piano reminds of the work of a similarly pioneering, south Asian-influenced pianist, Anton Batagov. Ocean’s Blood, a circular, indie classical-inspired theme, sends a hypnotic series of call-and-response motives spinning through the mix, Hoffmann’s voice mingling with the strings, growing more raw and apprehensive over Singh’s trancey clickety-clack rhythm.

Kurosawa’s stately, suspenseful, almost imperceptibly crescendoin koto takes centerstage in Takeda Lullaby – Inner Space. From there the group segues into a kinetically atmospheric, similarly Asian-tinged interlude pulsing with echoes and slowly shifting sheets of sound. The circular theme returns, this time with variations on a west African folk-inspired motif. From there the music shifts to the Nile with Lety ElNaggar’s ney flute and Shanir Blumenkranz’s oud, building to an achingly beautiful Middle Eatern melody that twists and turns through innumerable variations as it picks up steam. It makes for a stunning centerpiece. The album winds up with deep-space atmospherics, trip-hop and motorik rhythms, and a big Alan Parsons Project-style conclusion. The only dud is a failed attempt to mix jazz with top 40 urban pop: too bad that’s how our city is depicted, musically speaking anyway. In addition to the soundtrack, there is also a dvd available.

Get Ready for the Revelers

Here’s another hot party band passing through town who’re playing an unlikely spot. You may know the Revelers as being more or less the house band from the cable tv series Treme. Where in New York will these state-of-the-art cajun rockers be on August 20? The Jalopy, obviously? Nope. Beast of Bourbon, maybe? No dice. The Bell House? Uh uh. They’re at the Rockwood. At least they’ll be in the big room, where they’ll be playjng at 7 PM. Cover is $10.

They’ve also got a new album, Get Ready, streaming at Spotify, a surprisingly subtle, meticulously and puristically arranged counterpart to the band’s energetic live show. The first track, Toi, Tu Veux Pus Me Voir, meaning “you don’t wanna see me anymore,” pulses along on a brisk 2/4 groove from drummer Glenn Fields that’s practically ska. Accordionist Blake Miller and fiddler Daniel Coolik are the twin engines that drive it. Fields lends his suave vocals to the oldschool soul number Play It Straight, a co-write by Coolik and Kelli Jones-Savoy from Feufollet. Likewise, tenor saxophonist Chris Miller teams up with the accordion for Outta Sight, a more zydeco-flavored take on retro soul music. Where these guys come from in southern Louisiana, cross-pollination is de rigeur [that’s the French – does it work in Cajun too?].

The wistful ballad In the Proof proves how good the band is at mixing vintage honkytonk into their sound, guitarist Chas Justus following a smoky sax solo with some Tex-Mex flavor. Pus Whiskey is not an unthinkably disgusting drink but a sad cajun waltz (the title means “no more whiskey”) – again, there’s that border rock influence, this time mixed with C&W. And Please Baby Please mashes up 60s garage rock with cajun, the accordion growling to the point where the reeds sound like they might bust loose.

Another ballad, Just When I Thought I Was Dreaming looks back to Fats Domino, the sax picking it up with some jaunty spirals. Single Jeans, with some neat tradeoffs between Justus and the accordion, refers to what a girl’s wearing to get what she wants at the bar (we’re not talking drinks). The swaying Juste Un Tit Brun goes back to classic country; the album’s most unselfconsciously gorgeous number, Being Your Clown, is a soul ballad. The final cut is a shuffling dance number, Ayou On Va Danser. This is an especially good album for people who might think that cajun music is all accordions and vampy riffs – it’s a strong reminder how the eclecticism of the music mirrors the diversity of the people who make it. And, obviously, it’s a lot of fun.

Los Crema Paraiso Bring Their Trippy, Cinematic Tropicalia to Barbes Again

Los Crema Paraiso are a psychedelic tropical power trio, a supergroup of sorts. If you can excuse the dadrock reference, they’re sort of the Blind Faith of equatorial latin rock. Los Amigos Invisibles‘ José Luis Pardo plays guitar and keys; Álvaro Benavides of superstar percussionist Pedrito Martinez‘s group plays bass, with polymath percussionist Neil Ochoa, late of Chicha Libre, who springboarded much of the current explosion of trippy pan-American sounds. Named for a favorite Caracas ice cream spot, they’ve got a new album, De Pelicula, inspired by Venezuelan film from over the years, streaming at Bandcamp.  They’ve also got a show at 8 PM on August 12 at their home base in New York – where else? – Barbes.

The album’s opening instrumental, Un Disip en Nueva Yol, sets the stage for what’s in store, a mashup of Rage Against the Machine grit, dreamy surf rock and a little psychedelic cumbia, set to Ochoa’s nimbly scampering triplet rhythm. From there, it’s a suite: if there’s one album released this year that really works on a cohesive, thematic level, this is it. Aterciopelados frontwoman Andrea Echeverri sings a rapidfire neo-folklore take of El Curruchá over the rapidfire flurries of guest cuatro player Jorge Glem of the C4 Trio. From there, Pardo leads the band with his echoey, watery, lingering multitracks over a lively string section, through a balmy, aptly cinematic instrumental: Theme from a Summer Place in the Amazon?

Rocco Tarpeyo adds wry reggaeton flavor to Varón Domado, a spiky, Veracruz folk-tinged number. Más, a bossa-psych cover from the late 60s, pairs surrealistically blippy organ against terse Os Mutantes-style guitar. To Zing with Your Girlfriend (Paradise Cream) keeps the acid-lounge sonics going, awash in droll dubwise tinges and balmy layers of keys, up to a joyous guitar-fueled peak. Juan Rivas sings the album’s best and edgiest track, Tanto Que La Quise, a bossa-psych/chicha/Gainsbourg mashup that’s a dead ringer for Chicha Libre (and is that Chicha Libre’s Josh Camp on keening, trebly, wah-wah Hohner Electrovox synth? Sure sounds like it).

The tongue-in-cheek Cucaracha En Baile de Gallinas is the most vividly trippy track here, Benavides taking a woozy wah-wah solo before Pardo brings in a vintage Juaneco vibe. The album winds up with a similarly surreal cover of the Santo & Johnny surf classic Sleepwalk, Pardo’s cheery slide guitar taking it over the top. There are two misses here that fall into the “garbage in, garbage out” category: as hard as the band tries to psychedelicize them, there’s no redeeming a couple of cheesy 80s radio hits, one that you probably know from the supermarket and the other from Goth Night (does Goth Night still exist, or has it been superseded by Emo Night – or http://www.s&m.com?).

It was good to catch a sliver of the band’s set this past July 3, a night when the trains were so screwed up that the only option getting home from the (ridiculously pathetic) fireworks at Coney Island required a stop at Barbes to chill out and derail the evening’s mounting frustrations. Live, the band are a lot louder and more driving than they typically are on record. Pardo was in a particularly hard-rocking if swirly mood that night, using a lot of loops and pitch-shifting effects through several long, early Santana-esque interludes.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 188 other followers