New York Music Daily

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A Rare Appearance by Wild Romany Party Band Romashka at This Year’s New York Gypsy Festival

At the peak of their late zeros popularity, Romashka were rivalled only by Gogol Bordello and maybe Luminescent Orchestrii among New York Romany party bands. Frontwoman Inna Barmash, one of the world’s greatest klezmer singers, has a diamond-cutter clarity that’s almost scary. Her husband Ljova Zhurbin is one of this era’s most eclectic and brilliant violists. They don’t play live as much as they used to, but when they reconvene it’s like they never left off and the party starts all over again. They’re bringing their signature blend of slashing minor keys, acerbic chromatics and fiery Russian Romany dances to the latest installment of the ongoing New York Gypsy Festival at Drom this Sept 20 at 8 PM; adv tix are $15. It’s going to be a little taste of Golden Fest a few months before the annual Balkan blowout takes place next January 12 and 13 in Brooklyn.

Unless they’ve been keeping their gigs a big secret, the most recent Romashka gig was at Golden Fest 2018, and it was killer. Fortuitously, their set was recorded and is available as a free download at the Free Music Archive. They kick it off with Hochu Lyubit, a scampering, pulsing dance, Jeff Perlman’s clarinet bubbling, Zhurbin weaving through one ominous chromatic after another, then giving way to guest trumpeter Frank London’s triumphant solo as guitarist Jai Vilnai skanks and jangles. With her intense, melismatic delivery, Barmash gives it an extra shot of dramatic angst at the end – it was her birthday, so she was especially amped.

From there the band take a detour into a couple of acerbic Romanian dance numbers. Veering in and out of the western scale, Rustemul sounds like the theme to a village that time really forgot, a rustically surreal, coyly bombastic theme pushed along by Ron Caswell’s tuba and Chris Stromquist’s drums. Tocul is a lot more lighthearted and lickety-split.

Ljova’s delicate incisions and London’s plaintive trumpet matched Barmash’s distant, nuanced poignancy throughout a muted Russian tango, Serdtse. Her insistent attack and ornamentation in Loli Phabay – “Red Apple,” a Russian Romany tune – is pretty wild, in contrast with Vilnai’s jaggedly precise, Middle Eastern tinged jangle and clang.

Perlman fires off triumphant trills while Holmes smolders throughout the old Romany hit Shimdiggy. Barmash goes to redline right off the bat as the band launch into the edgy bounce of Zarnobila, taking a careening segue into a rapidfire take of Baro Faro to end their show with a blistering stampede out.

Although Brooklyn’s Grand Prospect Hall wasn’t designed for electric bands, the sound quality is surprisingly clear and balanced. Get this set before it disappears (that happens sometimes at the Free Music Archive) – it’s one of this city’s great esoteric bands at the peak of their powers.

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Majestic Menace and a Free Download From an Iconic Big Band

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society rank with the Maria Schneider Orchestra as this era’s greatest big bands, even if Argue’s eighteen-piece behemoth hasn’t been around as long as hers. While his recorded catalog is understandably smaller, he has more albums than you might be aware of, including a trio of live collections. OK, their 2011 release, Live at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is an ep – and you can download it for free at Bandcamp. Argue is bringing this mighty crew to the Jazz Standard on Aug 29, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM. Cover is not cheap – $30 – but if there’s any band alive who’re worth it, it’s this one.

The ep has only three tracks, but they’re epic. Recorded on a brief East Coast tour, they constitute some of the most sinister material from the 2009 Infernal Machines album. The first number, Ferromagnetic is pure Lynchian menace, opening with a sinister Bernard Herrmann noir twinkle, then Sebastian Noelle’s guitar twangs and the reeds flutter. A mean guitar riff circles as the orchestra pulses and the skies redden, then everybody drops out for a suspenseful bass-and-synth interlude. Is that Ingrid Jensen on the solo trumpet, echoing and sputtering, before the guitar, low reeds and brass move in with a grim anthem?   

Right where Jon Wikan’s polyrhythmic intro to the album’s mightiest number, Phobos, is about to shift from suspense to “drum solo,” bassist Matt Clohesy steps in with his macabre, modal riffs, echoed by the guitar.The title refers to the Mars moon destined to someday either crash into the planet or shatter from the force of gravity as it falls, an angst underscored by John Ellis’ big tenor sax crescendo. A bit later Noelle reemerges to shadow its increasingly frantic Tourette’s, the rest of the group following an ineluctable course.

The final cut is Transit, another dark masterpiece with the same blueprint: whispery intro, ominously chromatic, mantra-like riffage and variations. Space: the final destination. Jensen’s roller-coaster of a trumpet solo has to be heard to be believed: people practice their whole lives and never play something so thrilling. Recommend this to your friends who might not know the band. It’s as close to a bite-size introduction as there is and a rare gem in the ever-more-imposing Argue catalog.

Individualistic New Metal in Bushwick This Weekend

Metal trio Earnest Gallows may call their debut release a “three song demo,” but it has an understated, chrome-plated polish. What most distinguishes them from the legions of headless axemen on an endless gallop toward Mordor is frontman/guitarist Richie Pace’s vocals. “We brought this upon itself…conveniently bought, at the cost of critical thought,” he belts in the second track, Man Made Hell, a purposeful, tightly crystallized anthem that clocks in at less than four minutes. But that delivery is unexpectedly down to earth – no cartoon characters or phony opera here. The ep is up at Bandcamp as a free download, and they’re playing the Cobra Club in Bushwick on Aug 5 at around 9. The venue doesn’t list whether there’s a cover charge or not, but if there is it’s usually pretty cheap here, no more than ten bucks.

The ep’s first track, The Nearby is a contrast of crunch punctuated by the occasional guitar flare; Pace puts the bite on for extra cynicism in places. The final track, Secular Peace, is the band’s most ambitious number and a mishmash of rhythms, bassist Philip Tavadze climbing and then finally joining the sprint down the battlefield in tandem with drummer John Naeder. You can hear echoes of Iron Maiden but also artsier 70s rock and even 80s goth in the group’s music: if catchy, heavy sounds are your thing, keep an eye out for them.

A Killer Punk Rock Show This Saturday Night in Williamsburg

How cool would it be if punk rock hadn’t been turned into a mallstore t-shirt and a bunch of Warped Tour boybands with matching tattoos?

Isn’t it pathetic how some kids confuse self-centered, joyless emo with inclusive, funny, politically aware punk?

Luckily, there are still some punk bands who haven’t sold out or lost their sense of humor, and one of them is the Car Bomb Parade. They don’t sound much like the Clash, but they have the same cynical, apocalyptic spirit and sense of fun despite everything. They’re playing the Gutter in Williamsburg at 9:45 PM this Saturday night, May 26; cover is $7. Dark psychedelic-and-latin-influenced punks Fisk open the night at 9; funny hardcore band But, Pyrite – whose big hit is Peeing in the Shower – play after at around 10:30. Skum City, who have a similar sense of humor, headline afterward.

Only guitarist Will E. Ramone remains from the band who released their debut World War Anthems – still available at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download – in 2014. Sadly, their killer live album The Car Bomb Parade Takes Queens isn’t available online anymore, but they still have the debut album, their latest release Death Destruction Chaos Filth and Greed, and Live with a Mouthful of Molotov Cocktails – a free download as well – all up at Bandcamp.

The last in that list is their longest one, a bunch of early versions of many of the tunes that eventually made it to The Car Bomb Parade Takes Queens, recorded live complete with crowd noise and drunken between-song banter at Blackthorn 51 in Queens in the winter of 2014.

The show that night kicked off with a bloody take of 50 Shades Of Red, veering in and out of doublespeed with fuzztone guitar crunch. “This song’s about god, because he’s not fucking real,” vocalist Rev. Nicky Bullets snarls, intruducing Fuck Your Gods, Ramone ripping through some Social Distortion-ish leads in between blasts of chords. They follow the doomy hardcore anti-police brutality anthem Occupation with Has-Been, a loping, amusing salute to guys who’ve outgrown getting their brains bashed in the moshpit and are content to just drink instead.

Drummer Dan Brown kicks off Burn with a big flurry against Vic Santos’ growling bass, then the two lead the stampede. The closest thing to Social D here is Fuck the World; after that, the band flip the script with Ninja, a bizarre zombie story. They wind up the set with the fastest numbers of the night, Salvation and then the refreshingly un-PC Riot Girls. The album also includes somewhat cleaner (clean is a relative word) studio “demo” versions of Ninja and Fuck the World.

A Rare Chance to See Haunting Large-Ensemble Turkish Music in the West Village

One of the most serendipitous developments in New York music this year is that Seyyah, who might be this city’s most epic Turkish band at the moment, have been playing more lately. Which is more impressive than it seems, considering that percussionist/singer Jenny Luna has been plenty busy with her own similarly haunting Turkish-Balkan band Dolunay. Pretty much everybody else in Seyyah plays with other bands as well. Tanbur lute player Adam Good is also in Dolunay, and lends his prowess on many stringed instruments to numerous other groups including sizzling rebetiko metal band Greek Judas. Oudist Kane Mathis has his own project, his Indian-tinged groove duo Orakel, and plays in Nubian band Alsarah & the Nubatones. Clarinetist Greg Squared is in Raya Brass Band (who played a sizzling set this past Saturday night at Barbes) and Sherita. Violinist Marandi Hostetter plays with slinky Egyptian bands Nashaz and Sharq Attack (some might say that they’re the same group) and others, as do percussionists Simon Moushabeck and Philip Mayer.

Seyyah’s next gig is this Jan 15, with sets at 8 and 9:30 PM at Cornelia St. Cafe. Cover is $10 plus a $10 minimum; the food at the downstairs West Village jazz boite is actually a cut above what most jazz club kitchens throw at you. Seyyah are also one of the latest bands with the good sense to release a live album, a free download recorded at Barbes last May on a live WFMU Transpacific Sound Paradise broadcast which also featured a rather rare, starkly intense set of Georgian folk tunes by guitarist Ilusha Tsinadze and his trio, plus a lustrous, hypnotic, tantalizingly brief handful of tunes by a subset of lavish, paradigm-shifting Indian carnatic choir the Navatman Music Collective.

Seyyah’s set – with a slightly altered lineup – opens with Mahur Saz Seman, a catchy, bouncy, somewhat bittersweetly anthemic tune. As the song goes on, the trills of Zoe Christiansen’s clarinet and Eylem Basaldi’s violin take it into more brooding territory before the main theme returns. Sultani Yegah veers between a jiggy, sea chantey-like bounce, and more wary, chromatically incisive interludes, with a spiky, moody tanbur solo. Basaldi takes centerstage with her microtonal nuance in the briskly flurrying, slashing Hicaz Zeybek, the set’s arguably best and most Arabic-inflected song.

Scampering percussion propels Hüzzam Oyun Havasi – like most of the songs here, it starts out with everybody playing the rippling, uneasy modal melody, then Good pulls away, then we get a moody, deliciously microtonally-spiced clarinet solo and a lively percussion break. The night’s coda is Çeçen Kizi, a wickedly catchy, broodingly intense, undulating theme with Basaldi leading the charge out this time. It’s amazing how good the sound quality is, considering how packed and noisy the bar was that Saturday night.

And if you’re going to Golden Fest this weekend, Greek Judas, Raya Brass Band and Dolunay will all be there on Saturday.

Classic, Poignant Rocksteady Sounds and More Uptown Saturday Night

Silvana up on 116th Street is not a place for listening. It’s a Columbia hangout, a place for those who can afford an Ivy League education without benefit of a scholarship. But with the precipitous decline of Manhattan nightlife, it’s become a magnet for a lot of good bands, especially from out of town, who don’t buy Facebook likes and “friends” to satisfy the bean counters who are booking more and more of what’s left of the borough’s music venues. Though the segues between bands uptown tomorrow, Dec 16 characteristically make no sense at all, it could be a fun night if you can get close enough to the stage to hear them. Entertaining, high-energy newgrass crew the River Bones Band kick off the evening at 8, followed eventually at 10 by the smoky roots vibes of Dubistry  and then at 11 by oldschool-style rocksteady/roots reggae singer Caz Gardiner and her excellent band.

Gardiner is a throwback to the glory days of the Skatalites and Darlene Shaffer, a singer with jazz chops and all kinds of subtle wiggles and blue notes. To get a sense of where Gardiner’s coming from, download her free single at Bandcamp. The A-side is a skanking, marvelously nuanced rocksteady cover of the Searchers’ classic 1964 hit Needles and Pins. it’s not as good as the Ramones’ version, but it’s awfully close.

The B-side, recorded live on tour in Argentina, is Cycles, a perfect evocation of late 60s Kingston, Gardiner’s voice equal part resolute calm and edgy unease in a situation where “things can’t get worse right now”. It’s a fair guess that a lot of people will be be dancing to this one Saturday night.

Relevant Mexican Sounds, and the Hip-Hop Elite Salute a Chinatown Legend

Fearless Mexican-American folk-rockers Las Cafeteras have a cool free download today just in time for President’s Day. If I Was President is off their forthcoming Tastes Like LA album. “We’ve got a different kind of party in the White House tonight.” For real!

And even if rap or stoner Chinese food isn’t your thing, and you’re a New Yorker, check out Narcotechs‘ great new video for their joint Chicken Lo Mein. They filmed it at Wo Hop. If you’re OG NYC, at one time or another you’ve indulged at the legendary Mott Street spot. This was filmed in the basement space – duh – not the street-level room, which draws the tourists in for more ducats. The production draws on a Wu-tang classic from back in the day. Relive your lost youth in this one if you can remember it.

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.

Ellen Siberian Tiger Bring Their Smartly Lyrical, Eclectically Artsy Rock to Fort Greene

Philadelphia band Ellen Siberian Tiger play an enigmatic blend of dreampop, growly early Pixies-style anthems, and more delicate Americana and chamber pop-oriented material, all of it with an uneasy psychedelic tinge. Most of the songs on their album I Can’t Help It – up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download – contain elements of all of those styles.They’ve got a gig at 10:15 PM (that’s what the calendar says) on Nov 29 at the Way Station in Ft. Greene. The venue, with its yappy gentrifier bar crowd and lousy sound, isn’t the most hospitable place to see a band, but since so many people are out of town this weekend, this might be the time to do it.

The album’s opening, title track risese from an elegant web of acoustic guitar fingerpicking to a swirly, crashing, electric dreampop chorus, a mashup of Linda Draper and the Cocteau Twins, maybe, with vocals closer to the former than the latter.

“I begin to end,” frontwoman/guitarist Ellen Tiberio-Shultz intones in her cool, clear voice in Sylvia, as the song rises from a swirly/jangly dichotomy crashing, anthemic heights. With the emphatic violins of Catherine Joy Parke and Drew Percy, I Smelled the Rain is a catchy mashup of newgrass and chamber pop:

You’ve got a heart like Cinderella but a curfew that you keep
Your love goes home at midnight but I’m losing sleep
But you have no glass slipper, no test for you to take
Even if the shoe did fit how long til it breaks

Likewise, Asleep in the River takes a brooding folk noir theme and takes it toward electric Jefferson Airplane territory, lit up with drummer John Cox’s hailstorm cymbal work: it brings to mind New York’s similarly eclectic Sometime Boys. “It only takes so many words to tell the truth and half as many to tell a lie,” Tiberio-Shultz reminds acidically. “Run to the river, throw me in, see if I float.”

Cuttlefish shifts back and forth between tempos,  Cox’s spiky banjo juxaposed against lush strings. Mrs. Pontellier is a blaze of haphazard cowpunk with a joyously fun Collin Dennen bass solo midway through, while Pine Needles comes acrosss as a blend of Surrealistic Pillow-era psych-folk and unsettled Little Silver jangle. When We Grow Up has dancing pizzicato violin to light up its moodily hypnotic Randi Russo-esque ambience and segues into the album’s final, most ornately psychedelic cut, Lion Hearted, rising out of deep-space ambience toward Radiohead majesty. This album is like an artichoke, with many tasty layers and also spines that will grab you if you stop paying attention for a second.

Nuclear Codes for the Game-Show Host

Mike Rimbaud recorded his grimly prophetic Going Down to Trumpistan – a free download – before last night’s election results.It’s sort of a mashup of early, classic Public Enemy and late 60s Carlos Santana. In his ominous baritone, the New York songwriter considers how

Journalists are the enemy
Torture is an art, seriously
Crowd control
No privacy
Going down, down, down to Trumpistan

He’s playing Otto’s this Saturday night at 11: it’ll be a party for our right to fight.

And for historical context, here’s Gil Scott-Heron’s similarly prophetic 1976 requiem, Winter in America.

Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds
Looking for the rain
Just like the cities that stagger on the coastline
And a nation that can’t stand much more
It’s Winter in America
All of the heroes have been killed, sent away
It’s Winter in America
And ain’t nobody fighting
‘Cause nobody knows what to say