New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: funk-rock

Catchy, Jangly, Propulsive, Afrobeat-Inspired Tunes from the Letter Yellow

Do you like the idea of Vampire Weekend but find the real thing impossibly insipid? If so, the Letter Yellow are for you. Frontman/guitarist Randy Bergida writes lithely dancing, catchy major-key tunes anchored by the rhythm section of bassist Abe Pollack and drummer Mike Thies. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Watercolor Overcast at the Cameo Gallery tonight, June 18 at 10 PM; cover is $8.

Pollack’s trebly bass plays an Afrobeat groove underneath Bergida’s balmy but tensely anticipatory vocals on the opening track, Anytime of Day, a lush, dynamically shifting, artfully orchestrated anthem. Road to the Mountain has a loping Afropop groove with an unselfconsciously joyous flute flourish on the turnaround, hitched to a gospel-inspired vamp. Summer in the City isn’t the 60s pop hit but an enigmatically sunny, soul-splashed, strummy original that in another era would have been a monster radio hit.

Pain in the World blends an edgy minor bossa groove and biting roots reggae lyricism over an echoey minor-key melody with hints of that tune that every busker from Sydney to South Carolina knows. The album’s strongest track, The Light We Shed sets pulsar guitar multitracks to a steady marching beat, echoey jangle giving way to clang and resonance. Slow Down works a slowly swaying, hypnotically summery soul vamp lit up with some sparkly keygboard flourishes.

Cold Cold Night builds a fiery, galloping nocturnal ambience, far from the wintriness the title suggests. Likewise, the soul strut Downtown has a nighttime vibe, with a long, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking-style latin psychedelic outro.

Drifter shifts toward Americana, while the final track, Can I Get It Girl goes in a more straightforward hard-funk direction, with more than a hint that it’s the style of music where the band got their start. Maybe the coolest thing about the album is that it’s available on vinyl: if the band remembers to bring a box of records to their shows, it’s a sure bet that they’ll sell out. So far, it hasn’t hit Bandcamp or the usual sites, but the band’s previous output is streaming at their  audio page.

A Killer Free Download from Jamband the Delta Saints


Nashville jamband the Delta Saints call themselves “bayou rockers,” but while it’s true that they draw on New Orleans sounds, they’re a lot more diverse. Although they can be funky, they’re first and foremost a rock band. And while most people think of New Orleans music as ecstatic and celebratory – and a lot of it is – that music has a dark side, and the Delta Saints absolutely get that. If long, smoldering psychedelic jams with searing guitar and trippy keyboards are your thing, go to their site and download their killer new ep, Drink It Slow, for free (you can also stream it at Soundcloud). It’s the closest you’re going to get to their Feb 15 show at Irving Plaza opening for newschool outlaw country band Blackberry Smoke because that show is sold out. Is that cool or what? A country band and a delta-flavored jamband selling out a venue the size of Irving Plaza – has that ever happened in New York, let alone during this never-ending depression?

Don’t be fooled by the fact that that the ep has only three tracks: there’s more music than you would expect. It’s rare that you find a band that can go on to such great lengths yet still be as purposeful and consistently interesting as the Delta Saints are. Their not-so-secret weapon is lead guitarist Dylan Fitch, a monster blues player who can be very fast and frenetic, but he doesn’t waste notes. Likewise, Nate Kremer, the band’s keyboardist, who switches effortlessly from icepick piano lines, to swirling, majestic organ, and electric piano, varying his textures from echoey deep-space sonics to sly wah-wah licks.

Frontman Ben Ringel’s burning electric dobro kicks off the first track, Cigarettte with snarling riffage over drummer Ben Azi’s loose, laid-back, funky shuffle before the organ and piano wash in like a volcanic vent on the riverbottom. It’s a revenge anthem: Ringel tells the girl he wants to feel her choke from that smoke. Ouch! The second song, Crazy, is the centerpiece and it is a doozy, a nine-minute epic that works a slow, slinky noir blues groove with all kinds of up-and-down dynamics, a precise, angst-fueled Fitch solo and every keyboard texture in this band’s arsenal. Again, Azi’s drumming is just plain killer, hanging along a misterioso edge with his boomy kickdrum and haunting cymbal work during the song’s quieter moments. The last song is Drink It Slow, a live take that’s the funkiest thing here (although it’s more of a soul song) and another showcase for the keys: organ, wah Rhodes and finally a gritty explosion of guitar as bassist David Supica finally takes the band upward as it nears the end. The Delta Saints pretty much live on the road, so they’ll probably be back in town before you know it.

Shannon McNally’s Small Town Talk: The Great Lost Dr. John Album?

Bobby Charles was a Cajun soul songwriter who scored during the early rock era with hits including See You Later Alligator and Walking to New Orleans. He also recorded sporadically: Shannon McNally discovered him via his self-titled 1972 album recorded with The Band. In 2007, three years before Charles’ death, McNally, Dr. John and the Lower 911 went into the studio with Charles and recorded Small Town Talk, an album of Charles covers that is just now seeing the light of day. McNally plays the album release show at 7:30 PM on May 17 at Joe’s Pub; $12 advance tix are still available as of today.

McNally has a history of collaborating with underrated New Orleans figures, most recently her intense 2011 Americana album, Western Ballad, with Mark Bingham. Though credited to her, you might consider this a great lost Night Tripper record. As you would imagine, it’s pretty funky. As you also might imagine, Charles’ songwriting turns out to be considerably more interesting than the top 40 fluff he’s best known for: his aphoristic turns of phrase have a surrealistic humor akin to Dr. John’s. It must be a New Orleans thing.

The opening track, Street People, sets a funky tone with bubbly organ and punchy horns courtesy of legendary New Orleans arranger Wardell Quezergue, an octogenarian at the time who has sadly left us since. McNally’s wry vocals dignify the hobo narrator’s point of view, soberly observing that “Some poeple would rather work: need people like that!”

The cynical country shuffle Can’t Pin a Color pairs the guitars of John Fohl with guest Luther Dickinson. “Tell a friend your deepest darkest secrets, watch how fast it spreads all over town,” McNally drawls. String of Hearts, an absolutely gorgeous, sophisticated duet with Vince Gill, has a lush string chart and some equally gorgeous piano from Mr. Rebennack. I Spent All My Money is a honkytonk song with a laid-back, funky edge courtesy of bassist David Barard and drummer Herman Ernest that contrasts with McNally’s vitriolic vocal.

Cowboys and Indians starts out as a rather somber take on American Indian-flavored rock a la Apache and then goes scampering with some surprisingly focused slide guitar from guest Derek Trucks. Will Sexton teams up with McNally on guitar on the sad, alienated country ballad Homemade Songs; then McNally picks up the pace on Long Face, a jaunty duet with Dr. John.

The slinky title track is a matter-of-fact commentary on petty jealousy. I Don’t Want to Know takes an outlaw country ballad and gives it a little slink as well: the tradeoffs between McNally’s tremoloing guitar and Dr. John’s piano are one of the album’s high points. Arguably Charles’ most-covered song, (I Don’t Know Why I Love You) But I Do gets a purist swing jazz treatment. Love in the Worst Degree, another one of his more popular tunes, gets a ranchy, Stonesy interepretation. Save Me Jesus has the feel of a Vietnam War era song, an unexpectedly cynical, apocalyptic spin on a swaying gospel organ groove. The record winds up with Smile (So Glad), a  soul shout reinvented as a classic Dr. John piano/organ romp, and  the lush, jazzy, 70s style soul ballad I Must Be in a Good Place Now.

Does this album have legs beyond the old hippie/Relix/WFMU crowd? Absolutely. It’s a lot of fun and a good look at a songwriter whose more substantial side was overshadowed by his early success. And it’s noteworthy for being the final release by Dr. John and this version of the Lower 911, considering that Fohl and Barard are no longer in the band.