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Tag: parody music

Lots of Laughs and Surprising Subtlety in the Righteous Gemstones Season Two Score

What could be more ripe for musical satire than an over-the-top comedy series about a dynasty of hypocritical televangelists? On one hand, the soundtrack to season two of The Righteous Gemstones – streaming at Spotify – gives the cast the chance to chew some musical scenery. Composer Joseph Stephens distinguishes himself by taking a deep dive into a vast number of musical styles – cheesy autotune corporate pop, soca, powerpop, Stonesy rock and various Nashville sounds from across the decades – infusing much of it with ersatz gospel touches. On one hand, this is The Sound of the Sinners by the Clash, on steroids. On the other, it’s surprisingly subtle, to the point where some of what is obviously a spoof becomes such a spot-on evocation of one Christian subgenre or another that it could pass for the real thing.

The album is as vast as the Gemstones’ shady financial empire: a grand total of fifty tracks, most of them under the two-minute mark. The first part comprises a series of songs delivered in fluent southern accents by cast members including Joe Jonas, Jennifer Nettles, Edi Patterson, Danny McBride and Adam Devine. After that is a long series of instrumental set pieces ranging from tense horror-film interludes, moments of southwestern gothic menace and grittily pulsing synthesized action sequences – it’s funny how the country influence completely disappears in favor of deftly orchestrated suspense. When the churchbells ring, it is not for a rousing hallelujah but a grim amen.

The best song is Some Broken Hearts Never Mend, an absolutely perfect parody of fluffy, orchestrated 1970s Nashville country-pop where McBride, Patterson and Devine take very diverse vocal parts. It wouldn’t be out of place on Ween’s classic 12 Golden Country Greats album. Children appear as an obvious but long overdue punchline, more than once. Christmas music gets a well-deserved crucifixion. There’s a song-length homoerotic joke, later echoed in a lurid stripper instrumental snippet titled Manscaping. By contrast, track forty-three, Memphis Confrontation is a gem of a mashup of stark oldtime gospel and macabre cinematics. It’s rare that a composer gets called on to deliver as many good laughs as shivers, and Stephens rises to the challenge.

The World’s Funniest Jazz Band Explore Weird Pennsylvania

Since their beginning in the early zeros, Mostly Other People Do the Killing have built a wild and erudite career as the Spinal Tap of jazz. Their satire ranges from over-the-top cartoonishness, to layers and layers of inside jokes, to mimicry that sometimes so closely resembles the style they’re spoofing that it’s hard to distinguish it from the source material. And these guys go deep. Over the years they’ve flipped the bird to Count Basie, Ornette Coleman, and 80s fusion jazz in general, sometimes lovingly, sometimes with a snarky sneer.

They started out as a horn band, took a hiatus after multi-reedman Jon Irabagon and trumpeter Peter Evans became occupied with, um, more serious projects and have lately reemerged as a piano trio. How does their latest album, Disasters Vol. 1 – streaming at Bandcamp – stack up against the rest of their magnificently twisted oeuvre? This spoof of lounge jazz and occasionally other genres is sick, cruel and as ridiculously funny as anything else the band have ever recorded. The sickest thing about it is that a lot of musicians play music that sounds exactly like this sometimes, and think it’s good.

As usual, all the songs on the album relate to a location in bassist and bandleader Moppa Elliott’s native Pennsylvania. This time, he expands the concept to disasters, most of them manmade. The group go straight for the ultimate Pennsylvania nightmare with the opening number, Three Mile Island. How lethal is it? Hardly. The liner notes, by longtime MOPDTK chronicler “Leonardo Featherweight” claim that it depicts a nuclear power plant meltdown in reverse, and that’s plausible, as the band coalesce from dissociative bubbles (both drummer Kevin Shea and pianist Ron Stabinsky muck around on Nord Electro here) to hints of blues and eventually a jaunty swing blues tune.

The second number, Exeter is where the howls really begin, Shea reprising his usual suspect role as a Jones more Spike than Elvin. This snide lounge jazz parody may or may not reflect the corporate cynicism of the owners of the Knox Mine, who in 1959 attempted to save a few bucks and drill a little too close to the Susquehanna riverbed. The resulting flood turned not only the mine but the area around it into an aquifer and effectively destroyed the local coal mining economy.

Marcus Hook, on the Delaware River, has been the site of more than one fiery collision involving an oil tanker. The band commemorate one or more of them via a succession of loungey cliches in what more pretentious types would call an electroacoustic performance.

Stabinsky gets to revisit his hometown of Wilkes-Barre in what is supposedly a tale of the 1972 flooding there in the wake of Hurricane Agnes, but seems more of a snotty bag of cheap fallback piano riffs. Then the band make a diptych out of Centralia (home to the eternal flame, or at least eternal smolder) and Johnstown (that one everybody knows, right?). In the first part, Elton John seems to be a target, maybe Vince Guaraldi too. The second is a fool’s paradise of a jazz waltz.

Elliott breaks out his bow for a long overdue spoof of Halloween jazz (and maybe Thelonious Monk) in Boyertown, where a horrific theatre fire claimed over a hundred lives in 1908. Dimock, best known as the town where tap water would burst into flames as a result of fracking run amok, is immortalized with an endless series of cheesy quotes run amok – the false ending is priceless. These merry pranksters wind up the record with an “alternate take” of Wilkes-Barre which is too venomously good to give away. Somewhere there’s a cynical music blogger who’s going to pick this as the best jazz album of the year.

Ridiculous, Virtuosic, Outside-the-Box Fun From Joyride

It takes a lot of nerve to make music as amusing as Joyride‘s. Their irreverent reinventions of famous classical and jazz themes are as funny as they are outside-the-box. Whoever heard of an accordion-and-oboe arrangement of Bach’s Air on a G String, with a jazzy bridge? Throughout their debut album – streaming at Spotify – the duo of oboist Colin Maier and multi-keyboardist Charles Cozens have unrelenting, sometimes snarky fun and show off an impressive fluency throughout a wide variety of styles.

Maier cuts loose with his sizzling chops in what could be the most ridiculously over-the-top version of Tiger Rag ever recorded. Their Piazzolla-inspired piano-and-oboe version of Flight of the Bumblebee is pretty ridiculous, too – the punchline is way too good to give away.

Cozens goes back to accordion for Rhapsody in Light Blue, where the duo reinvent the Gershwin theme as a quasi-fugue before stretching it out. The most cynically spot-on track here is Isolation Blues, a ragtime-flavored reflection on endlessly exasperating plandemic restrictions.

Klezmer Fun is aptly titled, beginning with a brisk take of a famous hora, Maier adding subtle multitracks and shivery trills through an unexpectedly low-key interlude. Czardahora is a more harmonically adventurous take on the same formula. Tango de la Noche has Cozens on both piano and accordion, along with a similar mashup of popular nuevo tango riffs.

They close with La Fiesta, where Cozens and then Maier spin through supersonic riffage in what sounds like a loving spoof of flamenco jazz. One caveat: when you make a playlist out of this, ixnay on the little jokey skits in between some of the songs.

The Funniest and Most Serious Songs of the Week

Time for another short self-guided playlist today: half a dozen songs in about eighteen minutes. Click artist names for their webpages; click song titles for audio.

The most hilarious one that’s come over the transom here in the wake of the hissyfit that Neil Young (and maybe his hedge fund handlers) threw about Rogan and Spotify is Sold Man, Curtis Stone and Media Bear’s parody of Neil Young’s Old Man. They nail everything, right down to the whiny falsetto:

Locked down in this 5G town
Live alone in the metaverse
Klaus Schwab’s coming for you…
I’m alone at last when I failed to cancel Rogan

Download it for free here

On a more serious note, Dr. Dan Merrick has just released the protest song Wrong’s Not Right, a catchy update on classic 1950s-style country gospel. When’s the last time you heard a country gospel song that mentioned beer – and not in a disparaging way?

On an even more serious note, Dietrich Klinghardt just wrote a beautiful, haunting Appalachian gothic-tinged protest song, Angels Come:

A wealthy clique controls our leaders
And the internet, the media west and east
Are these billionaires ordained by God to lead us?
Behind their eyes we sense the mark of the beast

Last year, Lydia Ainsworth recorded a trio of songs from her Sparkles & Debris album with a string section. If you liked the Pretenders’ Isle of View orchestral record, you’ll love the new version of Halo of Fire: “Allow your thoughts to roam as freely as they desire”

On the mysterious side, Terra Lightfoot and Jane Ellen Bryant team up for Somebody Was Gonna Find Out. Find out what? It’s a good story, open to multiple interpretations. Two acoustic guitars, two voices: see if you can figure it out.

Let’s wrap this up with Elle Vance‘s La Beaute de la Vie – with Tayssa Hubert on vocals – which is part Edith Piaf, part reggae. It works. Go figure. This is the French version; sadly, the English version is autotuned.

Sick of Halloween Cliches? The Goosebumps Soundtrack Is Your Revenge

Today’s Halloween album is the cartoon kind. Danny Abosch and John Maclay‘s Original Studio Cast Recording to Goosebumps: The Musical – Phantom of the Auditorium is up at Spotify. It’s a play within a play packed with snarky, spot-on acting-world references.

This sometimes loving, sometimes coldly cynical satire begins when a handful of drama-club dorks, sick of being stuck in nonspeaking roles, decide to hijack the Woods Mill Middle School’s production of Phantom of the Opera. Seeing as they’re the school’s most dedicated horror fans, they’re uniquely qualified to pull off the stunt.

Beyond Andrew Lloyd Webber’s third-rate Berlioz, it’s a good guess that this is peppered with sardonic quotes from other musicals like The Lion King and Beetlejuice. The fourth wall comes down fast and pretty much stays down throughout this spoof, which also extends to the music. Like the narrative, this is a parody of parodies. Corporate urban pop and new wave each get a good spanking. Every horror-film score cliche other than a theremin eventually makes an appearance: spiraling cello, a churchbell, a random scream, lingering vibraphone and minor keys everywhere.

The plotline is akin to a PG-rated take on Heathers (which also was adapted into a killer musical). This cast includes Krystina Alabado, Alex Brightman, Stephanie Styles, Noah Galvin and Sheryl Lee Ralph. Alabado gets more time on the mic than anyone else. It’s anybody’s guess if or how good a singer she is because she’s autotuned. But that could be part of the joke.

Ride the Cyclone: Funniest Album of the Year So Far

If Weird Al Yankovic, Boots Riley and Mel Brooks got together to write a musical, it might sound something like Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond’s Ride the Cyclone. In the original soundtrack’s twenty-two tracks, streaming at Spotify, no style of music is off limits to this duo’s merciless satire. American and foreign hip-hop, circus rock, corny G-rated Lawrence Welk church-parlor pop, macho Russian crooner balladry, cabaret, emo and EDM all get a good thrashing at the hands of an eclectically talented cast of singers and players.

In one typical number, the amazingly versatile band here chew up ELO, Zapp and Roger, Huey Lewis bar-band rock, 1970s top 40 ersatz soul music and then spit them out, hard. Another song starts by spoofing phony-sensitive Conor Oberst sweaterboy sounds and ends making fun of the Osmonds. The jokes are too good to give away and are not limited to lyrics. This is the rare comedy record that stands up to repeated listening because the snark and savagery comes at you so fast that if you try to multitask, you’ll miss the best parts.

The musical’s Greek chorus is Coney Island character The Amazing Karmack, whose job it is to predict the hour of a person’s death. Adding an amusing level of meta, he gets to deliver some of the most corrosively hilarious punchlines. The story begins as the St. Cassian Chamber Choir, of Uranium City, Saskatchewan arrive at the end of the train line for a roller coaster ride. As you might imagine, considering Karmack’s involvement, things are not going to be quite so carefree as the cheery Canadians expect. A headless body is involved.

The characters are straight out of central casting, with several twists: this is also a parody of musicals in general. The dorky boy dreaming of louche life in the big city; a whiny Veruca Salt type; an operatic piano-thumping wannabe Sylvia Plath; and an oligarch’s kid posing as hip-hop star all get what they deserve, right down to the minute details. Where does Misha Bachinsky, “the best Ukrainian rapper in northeast Saskatchewan,” take his entourage to drink Cristal and roll blunts? No spoilers.

If Bill Withers and Jeff Lynne had teamed up to write the worst song of their lives, it would be It’s Not a Game, It’s Just a Ride. One of the soundtrack’s funniest interludes, Be Safe, Be Good, has sobering resonance in an era of 24/7 fearmongering from the corporate media. The cruel punchline at the end comes in the form of an American Idol-style New Nashville singalong. In a year of relentless gloom and a likely holocaust looming on the horizon, we desperately need albums like this.

Karmic Payback Via Video

Catherine Russell‘s new video You Reap Just What You Sow reinvents the Alberta Hunter gospel/blues classic as oldtimey string band music, with Larry Campbell on acoustic guitar and Howard Johnson on tuba. But as impassioned as Russell’s vocals are – karma is a real bitch –  this is even more noteworthy since it’s her first-ever recording on mandolin. Little-known fact: the famous jazz chanteuse is also a first-class bluegrass musician.

Elizabeth Cook’s Perfect Girls of Pop is a ballsy satire of corporate radio cheesiness. The big joke is when the chorus kicks in – and she’s got the autotune dialed up all the way to hideous. Yeah, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel – but it’s still fun to hear the carnage.

A Slyly Cinematic Instrumental Album and a Rockwood Residency From Henry Hey

Multi-instrumentalist Henry Hey may be best know these days for his David Bowie collaborations,  notably as musical director for the stage productions of Lazarus, but he somehow finds the time to lead his own band. The latest album, simply titled Four, by his Forq quartet with guitarist Chris McQueen, bassist Kevin Scott and drummer Jason Thomas is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s their most colorful and cinematic release yet. Hey has a weekly 9 PM Monday night residency this month, with special guests at each show, at the small room at the Rockwood, where he’ll be next on Nov 11 and you can expect to hear at least some of this live.

The album’s first track is Mr. Bort. a ridiculously woozy Bernie Worrell/P-Funk style strut employing a slew of cheesy late 70s/early 80s keyboard patches – it sounds like a parody. The second track, Grifter is an epic  – it shifts from a techy update on early 60s samba-surf, to slit-eyed Hollywood hills boudoir soul, Tredici Bacci retro Italian cinematics and finally a noir conversation between twelve-string guitar and synth.

M-Theory is sternly swooshy outer space drama in an early 80s ELO vein, followed by Duck People, a return to wry portamento stoner funk with a jovially machinegunning faux-harpsichord solo out. Lullabye, the album’s most expansive track, has loopy faux-soukous followed by Hey playing postbop synth over a long drum crescendo, then a startrooper theme and a bit of second-line New Orleans.

Likewise, Tiny Soul morphs into and out of hard funk from a chipper, Jim Duffy-style psychedelic pop stroll. The band go back to brightly circling, buoyantly orchestrated Afro-pop with Rally, then bring back the wah funk with EAV.

After a brief, warpy reprise from Lullabye, the band channel Rick James with the catchy Times Like These. The last track is Whelmed, a funny riff-rock spoof: imagine what Avi Fox-Rosen would have done with it if he was a weedhead. Somewhere there is a hip-hop group, a video game franchise, an action flick or stoner buddy comedy that could use pretty much everything on this record.

Fun (or not so fun) fact: Hey takes the B.B. King memorial ironman award here for most macho performance while injured. Two sets of jazz at the piano with a broken thumb, lots of solos and not a single grimace. Can’t tell you where or with who because the injury could have been costlhy if anybody had known at the time.

Moppa Elliott Brings His Twisted, Hilarious Parodies to Gowanus

Is Moppa Elliott this era’s Frank Zappa? Elliott is funnier, and his jokes are musical rather than lyrical, but there are similarities. Each began his career playing parodies – Zappa with the Mothers of Invention and Elliott with Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Their bodies of work are distinguished by an equally broad and spot-on sense of humor, with a cruel streak. With Mostly Other People Do the Killing – the world’s funniest jazz group – seemingly in mothballs at the moment, Elliott has gone out and made a lavish triple album with three separate, closely related ensembles. The world’s funniest jazz bassist is playing a tripleheader, with sets by each of them tomorrow, Feb 15 at Shapeshifter Lab starting at 7 PM with the jazz octet Advancing on a Wild Pitch, following at 8 with quasi-soul band Acceleration Due to Gravity and then at 9 with instrumental 80s rock act Unspeakable Garbage. Cover is $10.

Where MOPDtK savaged Ornette Coleman imitators, fusion jazz and hot 20s swing, among many other styles, the new record Jazz Band/Rock Band/Dance Band gives the bozack to New Orleans shuffles, Kansas City swing and retro 60s soul music, and attempts to do the same to 80s rock. It hasn’t hit the usual streaming spots yet, although there are three tracks up at Soundcloud. Throughout the record, Elliott is more chill than ever, letting his twisted compositions speak for themselves.

It’s redemptive to hear how deliciously Elliott and the “dance band” mock the hordes of white kids aping 60s funk and soul music. This sounds like the Dap-Kings on a cruel overdose of liquid acid, trying desperately to hold it together. Without giving away all the jokes, let’s say that drummer Mike Pride’s rhythm is a persistent punchline. And yet, as relentless as the satire here is, there are genuinely – dare we say – beautiful moments here, notably guitarist Ava Mendoza’s savage roar and tuneful erudition: she really knows her source material.

The horns – trumpeter Nate Wooley, trombonist Dave Taylor, saxophonists Matt Nelson and Bryan Murray – squall when they’re not getting completely self-indulgent, Mendoza serving as good cop. Guitarist Kyle Saulnier and pianist George Burton fall somewhere in the middle along with Elliott. As an imitation of an imitation, several generations removed from James Brown, Isaac Hayes and Louis Jordan, this is hilarious stuff. The arguably most vicious payoff of all is when they swing that unctuous King Crimson tune by the tail until it breaks: it’s about time somebody did that.

Advancing on a Wild Pitch – with trombonist Sam Kulik, baritone saxophonist Charles Evans, pianist Danny Fox and drummer Christian Coleman – is the jazz group here, akin to a less ridiculous MOPDtK. As with that band, quotes and rhythmic japes factor heavily into the sarcasm, but you have to listen more closely than Elliott’s music usually demands to pick up on the snarky pokes. This is also his chance to remind the world that if he really wanted to write slightly above-average, derivative postbop jazz without much in the way of humor to score a record deal, he could do it in his sleep. But this is so much more fun!

Again, without giving away any punchlines, the length of the pieces and also the solos weighs in heavily. Oh baby, do they ever. They savage second-line shuffles, the Basie band, early Ellington, 30s swing and doofy gospel-inspired balladry, among other things. If you really want a laugh and can only listen to one tune here, try St. Marys: the most irresistible bit is about midway through. Even so, there are long, unselfconsciously engaging solos by Fox and Kulik in the two final numbers, Ship and Slab, which don’t seem like parodies at all. If Elliott has a dozen more of these kicking around, he could blend right in at Jazz at Lincoln Center – and maybe sneak in some of the really fun stuff too.

Unspeakable Garbage’s honking instrumental approach to cheesy 80s radio rock is too close to its endless litany of sources to really count as parody. With blaring guitar, a leaden beat and trebly synth, they devise mashups from a list including but not limited to Huey Lewis, Van Halen, Pat Benatar and Grover Washington Jr. This predictable shtick gets old fast: Spinal Tap it’s not. You’d do better with Murray and his band Bryan & the Haggards, who have put out three surprisingly amusing albums of instrumental Merle Haggard covers.

Sam Broverman Skewers Holiday Overkill

Sam Broverman is the Tom Lehrer of cabaret music. Like Lehrer, he’s a math professor with an insatiable love for parodies. His latest album A Jewish Boy’s Christmas is out just in time for the holidays and streaming at Spotify. The songs first took shape as part of what would become a spoofy annual concert. They’re sardonic, cynical, sometimes schmaltzy, other times absolutely priceless.

True to form, he covers Lehrer’s Hanukkah in Santa Monica, but adds some lyrics of his own, a litany of holidays too good to give away here. Then he does the first verse again – in what sounds, at least from a former Lower East Sider’s perspective, to be perfectly good Yiddish. If you want a translation of “Every California maid’ll find me playing with my dreydl,” this is where to find it.

What’s a Jew to Do on Christmas is a deadpan, faux-wistful swing ballad about Christmas envy. What if ham could be kosher for a day – and maybe shrimp too? Multi-instrumentalist Drew Jurecka’s clarinet echoes that sentiment over the judicious backdrop of Peter Hill on piano, Ross MacIntyre on bass and Ernesto Cervini on drums.

As one of several shout-outs to Jewish artists who’re responsible for famous Christmas songs, Mel Torme is represented twice. The Christmas Waltz is a duet with Broverman’s cabaret partner, chanteuse Whitney Ross-Barris. The other is The Christmas Song, a.k.a. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire – it’s not Nat Cole, but Broverman nevertheless characterizes it as one of the album’s more “serious” songs. Oy.

Ross-Barris’ misty take of the British folk staple Coventry Carol is the best of the serious tunes here, a somber jazz waltz. Then Broverman flips the script with You’re Speaking Yiddish, an irresistibly dixieland-flavored litany of chazzerai, shiksas, kvelling shlemiels and such which have insinuated themselves into everyday English.

The First Noel Parody, featuring the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, casts a suspicious eye on members of the tribe who celebrate Christmas – hey, don’t laugh, in the old country the cossacks would leave you alone if you were ho-ho-hoing with everybody else.

Ross-Barris offers a brassy take of the Tom Waits classic Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis. Christmas Carol Parodies might be the album’s best track, a cautionary medley about holiday selfies, overindulgence and the Halloweenish experience of children’s concerts.

Broverman explains Swinging the Chicken as “a comedic look at the traditional Yom Kippur ritual ‘kapores,’ when a live chicken is passed overhead three times with the hope that it will help atone for one’s sins.” Mazel tov. Ken Whiteley plays slide guitar and Jurecka switches to fiddle in this ersatz western swing tale of poultry in motion. To call this one of the alltime great Christmas albums is akin to saying that Shoko Nagai is one of the world’s greatest Japanese klezmer accordionists. Such things do exist; this is one of them.