New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: patrick farrell accordion

Catching Up with Avi Fox-Rosen

Avi Fox-Rosen is on a mission to put out the best album of the year – or the twelve best albums of the year. His conceptual album-a-month project, one of the most ambitious jobs anyone in the rock world has taken on lately, doesn’t seem in any danger of slowing down. His initial release in the series got a thumbs-up here back in January and since then the albums have only gotten stronger. Other bands have famously released humungous amounts of music on a single album, or over a short period of time, but by comparison to Fox-Rosen, they’re all cheaters. Most of the songs on the Magnetic Fields’ hundred-song album are about a minute long and three chords at best; Vole’s hundred-song album, the first of its kind, saw them adding their own lyrics to other people’s music (i.e. turning the Clash’s Safe European Home into Greenpoint Pet Food Store).

Fox-Rosen, on the other hand, writes intricately and lyrically in a whole slew of styles, from funk, to oldtimey swing, to snarkily satirical powerpop, to all kinds of art-rock, some of it with pensive shades of the klezmer music he’s immersed himself in over the past few years. If he keeps this project up for the rest of the year, there won’t be another artist in the world who’ll be able to keep pace. Nor has this blog been able to keep up with him. So this is a long overdue look at what he’s been putting out, all as name-your-price releases at his Bandcamp page.

More than anything, Fox-Rosen’s songs are funny. As a guy who makes a living playing guitar – and also plays in Yiddish Princess, who do hair-metal versions of old Jewish songs – he’s learned a vast supply of cheesy riffs and sprinkles them with surprisingly good taste throughout his songs for plenty of laughs. He’s big on satire. The funniest of all the songs on the five albums he’s put out since February is on April’s album (the best of the bunch so far), a spot-on spoof of phony-sensitive Counting Crows style janglerock. The song is titled Plastic Los Angeles: the cynically sentimental lyrics are a hoot, but the music is even funnier. Fox-Rosen not only has the lazy chord voicings down cold, he also has the lazy inflections and amp settings down so cold that you don’t even notice that the song doesn’t have any drums. The rest of that album puts a simmering anger front and center, no surprise since the central theme is stupidity. The other songs include a cruelly hilarious Christian rock parody, an even crueller dis of cluelessly rapt, trendoid web surfers set to fake early 80s disco, a wickedly crude nod to Huey Lewis, a slightly subtler power ballad that references Oasis and a brief spoof of computerized club music.

March’s album is also very funny: it’s about money. Fox-Rosen quotes Hendrix and gets more bombastic from there on the first track, a raised middle finger to an arrogant one-percenter. I Went to College cleverly explores the limited options remaining for a guy with a degree in “esoterica” in the era when “entitlement all came tumbling down,” while All It Takes Is Money alludes to how the world’s oldest profession is a prototype for pretty much every other kind of transaction. Then Fox-Rosen drops the comedy and gets serious with a couple of biting folk-rock anthems: How Sharp Does the Bite Need to Be, a parable of a sleeping village surrounded by wolves, and the bitterly elegant Wish I Could Still Believe.

The theme of May’s album is fairy tales. Jack and the Beanstalk gets retold as a metal spoof, The Emperor’s New Clothes as snarky  power ballad parody, the Ugly Duckling as a snarling mix of klezmer, swing and noir cabaret. Fox-Rosen’s take on Rapunzel makes fun of a gentrifier girl in her highrise, while the funniest track, Don’t Let Go, flips the bird to Oprah-esque top 40 ballads from an unexpectedly diabolical point of view.

February’s album takes a jaundiced look at love, “A word you have to say so you don’t hurt the feelings of people who like to say it more than you….love is the biggest pain in your ass,” Fox-Rosen complains. A swinging country shuffle, a pensive art-pop song, a jaunty swing number, a garage rock tune and a creepy carnivalesque take on what the Beatles did with When I’m 64 round it out: it’s the most straightforward of all the albums so far.

This month’s album is about teen angst, and once again Fox-Rosen is heavy on the parody. Second-generation Chuck Berry by bands like Rockpile, Henry Mancini-style boudoir pop and 80s synth-pop each get a good spoof, followed by an unexpectedly serious, Beatlesque folk-pop song and a sexy new wave tune titled Cyanide. This time around, Fox-Rosen takes teenage lyrics by Heather Warfel Sandler, Leah Koenig and Sarah Zarrow and sets them to music for the final three tracks. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see what he has in mind for July. Throughout the series, Fox-Rosen plays most of the stringed instruments – guitars, bass and mandolin as well as keys – with contributions from several drummers as well as Michael Winograd and Dave Melton on keys plus Patrick Farrell on accordion and Alec Spiegelman adding some excellent clarinet and sax on the June edition.

Eva Salina’s Scorching Saturday Night Debut

Eva Salina Primack has been the go-to singer on the New York Balkan music circuit for awhile now, and has an upcoming collaboration with contemporary Bosnian accordionist Merima Kljuco. And somehow she’s finally found time to put together her own band, simply called Eva Salina. Their live debut Saturday night at a benefit for the Eastern European Folklife Center at the Ukrainian National Home was as both as feral and subtle as you would imagine from a group including Frank London on trumpet, Patrick Farrell on accordion, Rich Stein of Gato Loco on percussion and Ron Caswell playing simple, steady oompah basslines on tuba. Unlike most bands with a charismatic frontwoman, this one is just as much about the instrumentalists as it is the singer, Primack shimmying with her eyes closed, lost in the music while Farrell and London traded incendiary chromatics, the slinky vamps rising from a flicker to a flame.

The show was a characteristically eclectic mix of songs from across Eastern Europe, across the decades. Although Primack has a stunning vocal range in whatever language she chooses to sing in, this time out she aired out her lower register, sometimes brooding, sometimes brassy, sometimes sultry with just the hint of a rasp as the show went on. The effect was most impressive on a trio of songs in Romanes by the late, legendary Serbian gypsy crooner Saban Bajramovic. It takes nerve for an American to cover him; for a woman, it’s doubly difficult, but Primack nailed it, diving low and angst-fueled and eventually rising triumphantly on Me Mangava Te Kelav, a song whose gist is essentially “life sucks but let’s marry off my son and then party.” The tricky tempos of Rovena Rovena, a lament for a mother who’s left her family to go off to Germany in search of work, didn’t phase anybody, Primack poignantly evoking the pain and loss of a young girl left to fend for herself as London and Farrell sparred with an increasingly agitated series of chromatic riffs. And Pijanica, the lament of a drunk whose inability to pull himself together is gradually costing him everything, built matter-of-factly from a clapalong groove to a ferocious trumpet crescendo – as this band did it, at least he got to go out with a bang.

The most haunting part of the night was a pair of Bulgarian songs, Lenka Bolna Lezhi and Kate, Katerino, the first a plaintive account of a dying girl whose doctor eventually promises to heal her – if he can run away with her and marry her. The second implored a girl not to marry the local teacher, who has no house, and will probably drag her from town to town where the locals might think she’s a vampire (these songs’ lyrical content is sometimes as lurid as the Appalachian gothic that Primack also gravitates to, notably with her AE vocal duo project with Aurelia Shrenker). Ironically, the band did the most bizarre song of the night, the Albanian folk tune Trendafil (“Throwing your hair behind your eyebrows like a crown/What did the boy do that made you not talk to him?”) completely straight-up, the catchy major/minor harmonies of the accordion and trumpet so seamless over Stein’s relaxed backbeat groove that it was practically new wave rock. This band’s next gig is at the Jalopy on May 3 in a doublebill with Michael Alpert and Julian Kytasty’s excellent duo project.

Raya Brass Band were next on the bill. Their new album Dancing on Roses, Dancing on Cinders tops the list for best of 2012 so far (along with Chicha Libre’s new one, Canibalismo). As you would imagine, their Balkan jams are pretty amazing live. Now why would anybody want to blow off such a good band? It’s called having a life. Getcha next time, guys. Same to you, Forro in the Dark.