New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: gypsy rock

Black Masala Bring Their Deliriously Fun, Edgy Brass-Fueled Dancefloor Intensity to Drom

Black Masala are sort of the Washington, DC counterpart to Slavic Soul Party. They play an intoxicatingly edgy blend of Romany, Indian, Afrobeat, circus rock and hard funk dancefloor grooves. Their brassy attack features lots of biting minor keys and slinky rhythms. They’re bringing their high-voltage live show to Drom on June 10 at 11:30 PM. Advance tix are $10.

Their latest album I Love You Madly is streaming at Bandcamp. The title track opens with a swaying hi-de-ho noir swing theme and then hits a brisk Romany punk strut ablaze with the brass harmonies of trumpeter Steven C, trombonist Kirsten Warfield and Monty Montgomery’s pinpoint sousaphone pulse.

Drummer Mike Ounallah gives Too Hot to Wait an oldschool Earth Wind & Fire-style disco groove, the guys in the band trading vocals with percussionist Kristen Long, who delivers a coyly whispery Jane Birkin-style boudoir interlude as the song winds out. Guitarist Duff Davis drives the hypnotic but explosive Bhangra Ramo with his stinging upper-register riffage, akin to Red Baraat with a woman out front.

Cool Breeze adds hard funk edges, a lustrous EW&F sheen and spacy George Clinton psychedelia to a fiery minor-key Balkan brass instrumental. Sounds of the Underground, the album’s most straight-up, catchy number, is a pouncing latin rock-tinged number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Karikatura catalog, Davis’ nimble Django solo giving way to tightly wound spots from trumpet and sax.

Devil Sunset opens as Balkan reggae and then vamps along on a trippy disco beat, with plenty of sizzling riffage from the horns: it isn’t til the end that you realize that it’s mostly a one-chord jam. With its uneasy chromatics and staccato brass, the album’s arguably best number, Haute Cultura has both the catchiness and the edge of Serbian groups like Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar. The swinging, funky Oh No What Can I Do? makes a good segue from there as the band sprints to the finish line. The album winds up with a “radio edit” of the title cut. Nine songs, every one of them excellent, one of the best dozen releases to come over the transom here in the past several months.

 

Eva Salina Radically and Hauntingly Reinvents Balkan Icon Saban Bajramovic’s Cult Classics

Balkan singer Eva Salina‘s new album Lema Lema – streaming at Spotify – is a radical achievement. That it would take an American woman to bring the songs of Serbian Romany icon Šaban Bajramović to a global audience speaks volumes about how undeservedly obscure he is beyond the Romany diaspora…and also about Eva Salina’s revolutionary vision. CDBaby has both digital and physical copies.

There’s really nobody in western music quite like Bajramović – he’s sort of a Balkan counterpart to Hank Williams, but also Al Green and Bob Marley. Dating from the 1960s, his colorful songs spoke for generations of Romany people. who continue to experience disenfranchisement around the globe.

One of Eva Salina’s most ambitious moves here is not to make any grammatical adjustments for gender in Bajramović’s original Romanes-language lyrics (just as another elite singer, Mary Lee Kortes, did when she covered Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks). While the bristling minor keys, edgy chromatics and tricky meters of these songs may be exotic to most American audiences, the nuance and poignancy of Eva Salina’s richly emotive vocals transcends the limits of language: sometimes tender, sometimes coy, often harrowingly plaintive. Being versed in the language as well as the music, having immersed herself in both since childhood, no doubt helps immensely. She and her longtime accordionist Peter Stan have a couple of gigs coming up; March 3 at 8, they’re at Barbes, then the following evening they’re at the American Folk Art Museum at 5:30 PM.

The band on the album comprise the creme de la creme of New York-based Balkan talent. Along with the frontwoman and the accordionist, there’s trumpeter Frank London, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, multi-keyboardist Patrick Farrell, ubiquitous percussionist Deep Singh and tubaist Ron Caswell. There’s also a blazing brass section led by famed Serbian trumpeter Ekrem Mamutović.

Akaja Rat sets the stage, a lithely dancing, sunny, glisteningly precise nmber spiced with rat-a-tat brass, wry synth texurres and a shuffling, straight-up dancefloor beat. Boza Limunada opens with a blaze of brass from London and fellow trumpeter John Carlson, an anthemic, bittersweet, pulsingly tricky launching pad for Eva Salina’s coolly enigmatic low register. The band reinvents Djelo Djelo as somber, accordion-fueled Abbey Road Beatles art-rock under Eva Salina’s uneasily soaring melismas

Her darkly torchy approach to the plushly propulsive, noirish Hovavni Romni is spine-tingling.Singh’s slow, misterioso groove, moody low brass, Farrell’s spiraling synth and Seabrook’s dramatic David Gilmour-esque accents provide a haunting backdrop for the frontwoman’s  similarly suspenseful vocals throughout Jek Jek Dešujek, part lullaby, part warning. By contrast, the album’s title track blends staccato Balkan dancefloor chromatics and trippily twinkling art-rock under a pillowy vocal.

Singh’s leapfrogging beats in tandem with the brass adds more than a hint of bhangra to Koj Si Gola Roma, which takes on more of a Balkan reggae feel as it bounces along. They do O Zvonija Marena as a stately, understated, mysterious tango for accordion and vocals. From there they pick up the pace with with the track that may be the most familiar to Balkan music fans, Pijanica: the subtle keyboard touches under the slowly building brass conflagration are as amusing as they are psychedelic.

The final cut is I Barval Pudela, recast as blazing Romany rock:. imagine an artsier Gogol Bordello with one of the world’s most spinetingling singers out front. Spin one of this decade’s most exhilarating albums and discover two Balkan icons, one from the past and the other who promises to be one in the future.

Kalascima Bring Their Intoxicating, Psychedelic Italian Folk Dancefloor Grooves to Drom

Puglia, Italy’s psychedelically shapeshifting Kalascima make their New York debut on October 14 at 6:30 at Drom; cover is $15. Their latest album, Psychedelic Trance Tarantella is streaming at soundcloud. And it’s like nothing else you’ll hear coming out of the US, that’s for sure. Italy has been a hotbed of hot musical cross-pollination for literally millennia, and this group is no exception, part dancefloor trance band, part lively folk-rock outfit, part wild circus rock unit. The flurrying twin-percussion team of Riccardo Lagana and Federico Lagana propel the group in tandem with low-key bassist Riccardo Basile. Massimiliano De Marco plays an arsenal of acoustic stringed instruments, with Luca Buccarella on accordion and Aldo Iezza playing all sorts of reeds, from sax to the zampogna (sort of the Italian counterpart to the Irish uilleann pipes)

The album’s title track has uneasy vocal loops mingling with Celtic-tinged accordion and zampogna. With its droll, ever-present jawharp, This Way is a woozy, hypnotic, somewhat goofy mashup of qawwali and Italian folk. The catchy, slowly swaying Lu Sule adds wry hints of hip-hop and dub to a spiky, spiraling folk-rock anthem.

Moi! returns to a surreal mashup of tarantella catchiness and trancey qawwali dnacefloor groove, heavier on the former than the latter with some unexpectedly menacing vocal harmonies midway through. Mary Di Salem sends disembodied vocals and dubwise washes of keys floating through the mix over a muted dancefloor thud. Due Mari, featuring cinematic art-rocker Ludovico Einaudi on scampering, staccato piano, follows a slowly swaying, anthemic triplet rhythm spiced with De Marco’s rippling Irish bouzouki.

Kore, one of the deeper trance numbers here, anchors the brightly dancing accordion and Irish-flavored bouzouki in shifting, rhythmic grey-noise patches. The trippy grooves continue with Il Giardino, part qawwali, part spinning spider dance. Canto Degli Emigranti has a purposeful, briskly strolling bounce, dancing phrases from the zampogna, accordion and bouzouki echoing off each other as they spin through the mix.

La Rivolta Dell’Arneo is the techiest number here with its new wave synth loops and ever-present dancefloor thump anchoring briskly pulsing accordion and mandolin. The album winds up with the lush, windswept Musa – Musa Reprise, a sort of sea chantey without words, getting stranger and stranger as it goes along. English translations of the lyrics are hard to find, but the group seems to have a sense of humor, echoed in the interplay between the instruments. You can get seriously lost in this.

Sweet Soubrette and Kotorino Haunt Joe’s Pub

Did Ellia Bisker, leader of elegant existentialist chamber pop band Sweet Soubrette, make a quantum leap…or did she have those lush, poignant, unselfconsciously brilliant songs in her all along? Her emergence among New York’s songwriting elite dovetailed suspiciously with her joining forces with the more established and similarly brilliant Jeff Morris – leader of latin/circus rock/art-rock luminaries Kotorino – in the murder ballad project Charming Disaster. Whatever the case, the Sweet Soubrette/Kotorino twinbill at Joe’s Pub a week ago had to be one of this year’s best New York concerts, hands down.

Sweet Soubrette have been through several incarnations: the current version, with its terse, richly arranged horn charts and frequent echoes of classic soul music, is by far the best. Heather Cole’s violin dipped and soared over Bob Smith’s nimble bass and Darrell Smith’s jazz-inflected, low-key drums as the horns – John Waters on trumpet, Cecil Scheib on trombone and Erin Rogers on alto sax – provided lustrous, vintage Memphis-inspired, resonant harmonies. Bisker played ukulele, singing in a confident but angst-drenched alto that really kicked into gear in the lows: she’s made a quantum leap as a singer as well.

A coy gold-digger’s tale was an early highlight. On album, the band does Burning City – inspired by the account of the bombing of Berlin in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five – as moodily dancing art-rock, but here it had a more purposeful drive and heavier gravitas. The newest songs were the best: the sardonically pensive waltz Wake Up When pondered how little we retain from what should be life lessons, while Talk To Me explored the futility of breaking out of one’s aloneness and actually communicating. The catchiest number of the entire night, Ghost Ship, bopped along on a new wave Motown bassline, Bisker’s deadpan, staccato vocals building on a sort of catch/release dynamic: it would be a standout track in the Serena Jost catalog. The set wound up with the understatedly venomous oldschool soul-inflected Big Celebrity and its thinly veiled references to gentrifier status-grubbing, then the broodingly balmy, doomed wee-hours scenario Night Owls, and finally some comic relief in the form of a song-length shout-out to Anais Nin. “Let’s find out what’s stronger, my pen or your sword,” Bisker demanded.

She returned to the stage as Morris’ femme fatale foil in Korotino, who killed it, as usual. On any given night, they might be the best live band in town: that they could earn a roaring ovation by closing with a suicide song speaks for itself. While Morris has gone deeper and deeper into his pan-latin side in recent months, this show focused more on the band’s phantasmagorical, surrealist rock catalog. The dizzyingly syncopated, doomed minor-key cha-cha Never Had a Chance was a red herring of sorts, fueled by the devious rimshot drive of drummer Jerome Morris (Jeff’s brother) in tandem with Mike Brown’s sinewy bass and the horn section of Gato Loco‘s Stefan Zeniuk (who switched from bass sax, to bass clarinet and then tenor sax) and lively trumpeter Jesse Selengut. Violinist Estelle Bajou’s menacingly slitherly lines mirrored Cole’s approach in Sweet Soubrette – or was it the other way around?

Morris is another guy who’s never sung better, coming across as sort of an exasperated Joel Grey at the peak of his powers, armed with a hollowbody Gibson, the awestruck, epically shapeshifting steampunk adventure Oh My God giving him plenty of chances to air out his pipes. From there the band made their way through moodily strutting Weimar cabaret rock, building to a dixieland-flavored peak with the horns.The frantically swinging circus rock of Going Out Tonight contrasted with the angst-fueled, eerily misty vocal harmonies of the angst-fueled waltz Planes Land.

The rest of the set worked the dynamics up and down without a respite: it was a pretty wild ride. They opened the droll, artsy new wave-flavored Sea Monster with a chugging ska bass-and-drum intro and built from there to the deliriously balletesque, swirling latin noir What Is This Thing. An especially menacing, nocturnal take of North Star State, Morris explained nonchalantly, explored the simple, everyday chore of breaking your girlfriend out of the nuthouse. They closed with a suspensefully dynamic take of that suicide anthem, Dangle Tango. Kotorino are at Rock Shop on Oct 3 at 8, opening for the even more theatrical Funkrust Brass Band; cover is $10. And Charming Disaster play Pete’s on Sept 30 at 10.

A Killer Dark Psychedelic Triplebill in Queens

Having seen just one of the year’s best segues between two bands – in a year that’s been loaded with amazing twinbills – was there any sense in sticking around for the last band? Absolutely. Having already made the shlep out to Trans-Pecos in Ridgewood this past evening for Ember Schrag‘s potently lyrical psychedelia and Alec K. Redfearn‘s macabre, accordion-fueled psychedelic art-rock, hanging around for a rare appearance by Escape by Ostrich was worth it. The four-piece band – Willie Klein on guitar and violin, Bob Bannister on lead guitar, Chris Nelson on bass and Robert Dennis on drums – were like a no wave-tinged mashup of early Love Camp 7 (before they rediscovered the Beatles) and the Grateful Dead. They wound up a long but rewarding night with a particularly relevant, smoldeingly low-key cover of Woody Guthrie’s Deportees. Getting to that point was every bit as much fun.

Redfearn. who’s on tour at the moment, sounds like no other artist anywhere, the rare bandleader who’s iconic in psychedelic, art-rock and gothic rock circles. He also had the presence of mind – pure genius, actually – to enlist Schrag not as a guitarist but as a keyboardist. Redfearn gets his signature sound by running his accordion through a pedalboard: one minute he’s roaring like a guitar, the next he’s oscillating or adding devious wah-wah textures like Josh Camp did with his Electrovox in Chicha Libre for so long. Playing organ, Schrag harmonized seamlessly with Redfearn when she wasn’t adding hypnotic low drones or elegant baroque-flavored lines: you’d think that the band’s brilliant previous keyboardist, Orion Rigel Domisse, would have been irreplaceable, but Schrag adds her own similarly psychedelic edge. Redfearn sang in his signature powerful, brooding baritone while bassist Christopher Sadlers anchored the songs with his steady, pitchblende bowing, alternating with the occasional slinky rattlesnake groove. Drummer Matt McLaren enhanced the songs’ Balkan flavor with his sharpshooter rimshots on a kit with no cymbals. Horn player Ann Schattle supplied terse, incisive riffage when she wasn’t adding atmospherics, much like Schrag.

Auspiciously, much of the set was new material, most of the songs segueing into each other to make up a macabre suite. They opened with a thumping new number, murderous Serbian folk as done by Syd Barrett, maybe, then without stopping made their way into a swinging Balkan stripper vamp that sounded like it might be Redfearn’s classic Fire Shuffle, from his most recent album, Sister Death. As it disintegrated, radiating evil sonic radionuclides, it turned out not to be. A menacingly marionettish tune put Schattle’s horn front and center as Redfearn ran his accordion through the sonic strobe of a 1960s repeater box. The trickiest number was a Macedonian-inflected tune from Redfearn’s Exterminating Angel album from a few years ago; the darkest and catchiest material later in the set reflected a heavy Greek rembetiko influence. The folks at the Rock in Opposition Festival in France – where the band will be appearing next month – are in for a real treat.

Schrag and her amazing band – Bannister doing double duty on lead guitar, with Debby Schwartz on bass and harmony vocals and Gary Foster on drums – opened the night. Hearing her refer to herself as a “folkie” was pretty funny: although her first couple of albums are what she calls “great plains gothic,” her sound has evolved into shapeshifting, sometimes slithery psychedelic rock. Foster and Banister fueled the understatedly ominous flamenco flourishes on a bitter waltz early in the set, Schwartz and Schrag engaging in a brief, intense bit of trippy, contrapuntal neo-plainchant at one point. Seamlessly, they made their way through the straight-up, latin-tinged psychedelic pop of What Birds Do, the numbed Abbey Road Beatles angst of The Real Penelope and the shapeshifting Banquo’s Book, Bannister’s triplets mingling with Schrag’s hypnotically pulsing riffs. Likewise, it was impossible to figure out who was playing what throughout the deliciously clanging textures of one of Schrag’s several Shakespearean-influenced numbers, the agitatedly intense art-rock anthem Lady M.

Foster raised the suspense to murderous levels on the intro to Sutherland, an allusively creepy badlands tableau from Schrag’s most recent solo album, The Sewing Room. And although there’s all sorts of (usually implied) mayhem in Schrag’s double entendres, biblical and historical allusions, she can be riotously funny when she’s in the mood. My Brother’s Men, as she told the crowd, wasn’t actually about a goon squad: she got the inspiration from the title from the legions of barbecue joints run by brothers in her native Nebraska.

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.

A Rare NYC Show and Some New Tunes From the Brilliantly Surreal Balkan/Japanese Dolomites

True to his Romany-Japanese heritage, accordionist/multi-instrumentalist Stevhen Koji Iancu’s band the Dolomites play a surreal, distinctive mashup of Balkan and Japanese folk sounds. And psychedelic cumbias, and surf music, and creepy instrumentals that sound like video game themes from the 80s. There is no other band in the world remotely like them, due in part to Iancu’s genre-warping vision, and also to the rotating cast of characters in the group – it’s safe to say he’s got a deep address book. That may be due as much to his previous work with Gogol Bordello and Balkan Beat Box as his inimitable, individualistic style. The Dolomites make a rare New York appearance toinght, July 24, headlining a carnivalesque quadruplebill at around 11 PM at Bizarre Bar, 12 Jefferson St. in Bushwick: take the J/M to Myrtle Ave. Vaudevillian New Orleans oldtimey swing band the Slick Skillet Serenaders open the night at 8, followed by rustic folk noir group Outlaw Ritual and then bluegrass fiddle act Kaatskillachia. Cover is $10.

The band’s latest release is an ep, The Japan Years, Vol. 1, comprising material from 2006 through 2009. It’s the first in a series of three short albums due out over the summer, chronicling the band’s output through 2014. This one’s all-acoustic, just accordion, bass, percussion and vocals – and tuba on one of the tracks as well. The first, meaning “don’t give up” in Japanese, sets the stage, a phantastmagoricl, eerily Satie-esque accordion march, Iancu throwing in some throat-singing for extra global bizarreness. The second, titled simply Why, makes a slinky cumbia out of a carnivalesque Romany tune and almost imperceptily accelerates to warp speed. The next number is ostensibly a rumba, a dark, dramatic Cuban theme muted and spun over a wryly pulsing, cumbia-tinged groove. The slyly shufling final track, meaning “splash,’ is closer to cumbia. Fun, catchy, beguiling stuff, and you don’t have to speak Japanese or Romanes to dance to it. Watch this space for the second and third installments in the series, which will no doubt be up at Bandcamp at some point along with the rest of the Dolomites’ eclectic catalog, this one included.

Another Sizzling Balkan Party Album from Tipsy Oxcart

In terms of pure fun, there aren’t many bands in New York who can compete with Tipsy Oxcart. Saturday night at Barbes, as part of a WFMU radio broadcast, they played a tantalizingly brief set of music rooted in Balkan sounds, with bits of reggae, and dub, and cumbia and styles from across the Middle East soaring over a fat groove. That bouncing low end is one thing that distinguishes them from most other bands who jam out on dark Eastern European folk melodies. Another distinguishing characteristic is Maya Shanker’s violin tone: she uses an effects pedal, at one point managing to pretty much replicate the sound of a steel pan as she plucked her strings. The band has an excellent second album, Upside Down, streaming at their Bandcamp page and a show on Matchless in Williamsburg at 9 PM on May 20, where they’re followed at 10 by Brooklyn pioneers Hungry March Band, who play brass styles from New Orleans to Belgrade and pretty much all points in between.

Back in 2013, this blog said that Tipsy Oxcart’s debut, Meet Tipsy Oxcart, was better than the Beatles’ first album. And it was! Meet the Beatles may be a perfectly enjoyable janglerock record, but it’s not Tipsy Oxcart. Jury’s out on how the band’s career will compare to the Fab Four in five years’ time, but so far so good. The new album’s opening cut, Honey Dripper hints at Ethiopiques and then hits a reggae groove, Shanker in tandem with accordionist Jeremy Bloom and alto saxophonist Connell Thompson over the deep pulse of bassist Ayal Tsubery and drummer Dani Danor.

Yalla Yalla pairs eerily spiraling, wickedly microtonal Thompson clarinet with acerbic responses from Shanker over a trickily rhythmic beat, Bloom driving the dance to a raucous peak. Me First, a rather epic Shanker composition that also appeared on the debut album, features starkly incisive, rapidfire violin, a moody, Turkish-flavored clarinet break, and then after another pretty feral Shanker solo, hands off to Bloom’s machinegunning accordion. The Sheikh may sound as Arabic as a Hungarian freylach, but it’s a supremely tasty minor-key romp, Bloom and Thompson raising the energy to redline as Tsubery takes a familiar ba-bump groove and walks it briskly.

Bone Dance has an unexpectedly pensive sweep flavored with Shanker and Thompson’s twin harmonies over a backdrop that ranges from straight-up reggae to dizzying polyrhythms. You might think that the elegant fingerpicking that opens and then recurs in Homecoming over Bloom’s spare, wistful lines is a guitar, but it’s not – it’s Tsubery playing his bass way up the fretboard. Thompson and Bloom’s trilling lines are as catchy as they are bracing. Fax Mission, a salute to outdated technology, is the most westernly jazzy of the tracks here – at least until a completely unexpected dub interlude and then a searing Thompson alto solo. Then they go back to straight-up Serbian flavor with Tutti Frutti, Thompson and Shanker’s wildly careening lines over a tight strut. It’s about as far as you can get from a cheesy 50s pop hit

Sevdah One Eight has a bittersweet edge, Shanker and Thompson’s uneasy harmonies over Bloom’s lush backdrop. Tipska brings back the Balkan reggae – or is that ska? – up to a blistering outro fueled by Tsubery’s fuzztone attack. The album winds up with The Storm, a surreallistically vivid, shapeshiftingly cinematic tableau with more of a Balkan brass feel than the rest of the material. Look for this on the best albums of 2015 page here in December if we’re all still here.

Orphan Jane Bring Their Creepy Circus Rock Theatrics to Arlene’s

Creepy, theatrical circus rock band Orphan Jane put up some rough mixes at their Soundcloud page last year. This blog reported at the time that they sounded better in an unfinished state than most bands’ final mixes. In the time since, the band mastered and released those songs and a few others on their debut album, A Poke in the Eye, streaming at Bandcamp. They’ve also got an early gig this coming March 24 at 7:30 PM at Arlene’s; cover is $8. Generic dadrock singer Victor V. Gurbo recycles familiar Waits, Dylan and soul tropes afterward.

The album’s opening track is Whiskey and a Lie, a surreallistically rustic number that sounds like the Pogues covering a Brecht-Weill take on a sea chantey. Lost Mind is a menacing Weimar blues, frontwoman Jessica Underwood’s brassy cabaret delivery colliding with an eerie choir on the chorus over guitarist Dave Zydalis’ icepick accents and accordionist Tim Cluff’s minor-key swells. Last year, this blog described The Mansion Song as “a vividly scampering Roaring 20s noir cabaret song with uneasy Hawaiian-tinged steel guitar and a strange tale of wrongdoing and karmic payback among the idle classes.”

Still Life is a sad, bitter, klezmer-tinged waltz, bassist Robert Desjardins teaming with Cluff for a dark undercurrent as uneasy high vocal harmonies drift sepulchrally overhead. This blog previously called the album’s most vaudevillian number, Hole in the Head, “a bizarre duet between Underwood and Zydalis: he seems to be a quack doctor, she likes a smoke and a pill and some wine as a chaser, you think you can guess the rest but you really can’t.” The last of the tracks from last year’s Soundcloud page, simply titled “Murder!” welds skronky guitar and Underwood’s spot-on impersonation of a theremin to an indignantly strutting noir cabaret tune.

Underwood sings the murderously bouncy Losing Touch, the tale of a stage mom and her daughter with an evil agenda. The nocturnally waltzing final track, Night with a Stranger is a funny cautionary tale: be careful who you take home from the bar in the wee hours. There’s also a deadpan cover of Dylan’s surrealist stoner country tune You Ain’t Going Nowhere. There are scores of theatre kids who’ll hire an accordionist to play their campy cloak-and-dagger narratives, but Orphan Jane really get this style of music. Much as it’s a lot of fun, they always leave you guessing whether maybe they might actually be up to no good. A stealth contender for one of 2015’s best albums.

A Killer Debut Album and a Show Uptown by Charming Disaster

Guitarist/pianist Jeff Morris is the mastermind behind mighty, darkly harmony-fueled art-rock/circus rock/noir cabaret/salsa swing band Kotorino. Ellia Bisker plays ukulele and fronts catchy, lyrically driven indie pop band Sweet Soubrette. Together they are Charming Disaster, whose new album of murder ballads, Love, Crime & Other Trouble – streaming at Bandcamp – is one of the most twistedly delicious noir albums of recent years. They seem to have had so much fun making it that they ended up bringing in most of Kotorino in the process. Charming Disaster’s next show is on Jan 27 at 8 PM at Silvana on 116th St., down the hill from Morningside Heights, about a block from the C train.

Two things immediately distinguish Charming Disaster from the many other would-be hitmen with murder ballads. Where so many of those songs come out of the folk and country traditions, Charming Disaster’s are more urban, and urbane. A closer listen reveals little Raymond Chandler-esque vignettes with all kinds of unexpected narrative twists and ghoulish humor that manages not to be campy. Bisker’s ability to change her voice to suit the song, whether with a petulant hint of New Jersey or a brassy oldtime swing delivery, informs how she channels the various dangerous dames here.

The opening track, Ghost Story, begins with a gorgeous interweave of guitar and uke and rises toward Spectorish proportions as Bisker unveils a tale about a woman who’s haunted by not one but two ghosts, and how everybody got to where they are, dead or alive. Ocean City comes across as a more skittish, shuffling take on what Springsteen captured in another low-budget coastal town, pushed along by Mike Brown’s bass and Jerome Morris’ drums.

With its tinkling saloon piano, the Weimar blues-tinged Showgirl is a duet, a wickedly sardonic tale that reminds that corruption in the NYPD goes way, way back. Wolf Song recasts 80s goth rock as a delicate acoustic nocturne with a big brass-fueled crescendo from trombonist Cecil Scheib and trumpeter Jesse Selengut. Artichoke blends ghoulabilly with Romany jazz and noir cabaret in a Tom Waits vein. One of the best tracks here, Secretary, paints a ghoulish picture of a real femme fatale over an eerie staccato guitar bounce a la Iggy’s The Passenger: this girl always smells like smoke even though she’s never been known to step out of the office for one.

Morris and Bisker intertwine voices on Grifters, a cynical Depression-era con artists’ tale set to another ominously swinging, Waits-flavored shuffle. They pick up the pace with the roaring, punk-flavored, grisly Osiris, an aptly shapeshfitting number and the album’s most straightforward track. They keep the energy at knife’s edge with Deep in the High, a cruelly carnivalesque number about a couple unraveling fast.

The most suspenseful track here is Knife Thrower, a lushly menacing look at the symbiotic relationship between a carnival couple with some gorgeously deep-sky steel guitar from Morris. The album winds up with the uneasy I Know You Know, a bittersweet love song with a dark undercurrent. If you aren’t hooked on this by now, there’s no hope for you. You should also grab the band’s 2013 debut single, Murderer b/w East River Ferry Waltz, a free download also up at their Bandcamp page.

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