New York Music Daily

Music for Transcending Dark Times

Tag: rock music

There’s Never Been a More Appropriate Time for a New Phil Ochs Album

Phil Ochs was the best songwriter to come out of the 1960s. Like Bob Dylan, he started out as a folksinger doing protest songs. Where Dylan drifted into electric blues and wove William Burroughs-inspired symbolist webs, Ochs wrote historically rich mini-movies set to contemporary classical music, neoromantic art-song and careening, jangly Laurel Canyon psychedelia. Like Dylan, he hit a dry spell after one of his greatest albums – the harrowingly prophetic 1968 Rehearsals For Retirement. A couple of years after Dylan made his first big comeback with Blood on the Tracks, Ochs killed himself.

While there are entire albums of Dylan covers (the Byrds and Mary Lee’s Corvette at the top of the list), very few artists have covered Ochs – Marianne Dissard‘s chillingly atmospheric recent version of The Scorpion Departs But Never Returns is a rare exception. Fortuitously, there seems to be an abundance of material in the Ochs archive that never made it to digital, as evidenced by the lavish, brand-new twenty-track compilation The Best of the Rest, just out and streaming at Spotify. While this isn’t all prime Ochs, his corrosive broadsides, cynical humor and profound insights into capitalism run amok have never been more relevant than they are now. As a starting point for an Ochs mixtape, this is a decent jumpoff point.

Most of the songs are acoustic outtakes from the sessions for his 1965 album I Ain’t Marching Anymore, signaling the point where he was beginning to stretch out beyond critiquing early Vietnam War-era politics from an aw-shucks, Woody Guthrie-influenced perspective. The first number, the solemly vamping In the Heat of the Summer allusively examines the Watts Riots. it’s more portrait than analysis.

The take of the famous Civil Rights era anti-racist dis Here’s to the State of Mississippi is every bit as stinging as the one that made it onto the album. And the take of the equally popular I’m Gonna Say It Now, a raised middle finger at patriarchal power, has a careening energy missing from the official mix. As a snide chronicle of exploitation and hypocrisy, Canons of Christianity is slightly more subdued but no less impactful.

The limousine-liberal parody Love Me, I’m a Liberal is just as funny as it was close to sixty years ago, especially if you get the historical references. Song of a Soldier is a Vietnam-era parable that carries much more of a wallop in an era where New York nurses on the frontline get a nightly 7 PM cheer…but no raise, and no time off, and minimal protective gear. The solo acoustic version of The War Is Over, from a 1967 radio session, is even more surreal than the album cut, and is even more uncanny, foreshadowing lockdown-era America.

Similarly, Days of Decision is Ochs’ eerily clairvoyant take on Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing, right down to the waltz tempo. Hearing Ochs’ intricate Britfolk fingerpicking in I’m Tired, it’s no wonder English folksinger Shawn Phillips chose to cover it. Colored Town is as spot-on a portrait of ghetto life as anything Public Enemy ever recorded. Likewise, the cruel details in the anti death penalty tale The Confession.

That’s What I Want to Hear probably ended up on the cutting-room floor because it’s less than empathetic: some people (like Ochs himself!) are sometimes too depressed to protest. The Men Behind the Guns, a quasi sea chantey, is a shout-out to the navy rank-and-file, a reminder that Ochs was once a military academy-educated rightwinger before college radicalized him for life. But Sailors and Soldiers is as gorgeous and insightful a salute to veterans and draftees as anyone’s ever written.

Take It Out of My Youth could be the most elegant barroom tableau anybody ever set to a Tex-Mex waltz tune, “As the hours escaped to dungeons of wet empty words.” Ochs was a connoisseur of nueva cancion tunesmithing, underscored by an insistent take of the migrant worker tale Bracero. All Quiet on the Western Front, a 1969 rarity, paints a chilling, historically rich portrait of blind obedience to tyranny. The album’s final cut is a rare and fascinating rehearsal take of No More Songs, one of the few recordings featuring Ochs on piano, explaining his ideas for orchestral arrangements to an unheard collaborator in between verses. One can only wonder how the person at the other end of the monitor responded to Ochs’ self-penned obituary.

Solace and Inspiration From One of the World’s Greatest Musical Visionaries

Fear, fear drives the mills of modern man
Fear keeps us all in line
Fear of all those foreigners
Fear of all their crimes
Is this the life we really want?
It surely must be so
For this is a democracy and what we all say goes

In times of crisis, we turn to visionaries, because they see more clearly than we do. When Roger Waters put out his album Is This the Life We Really Want in 2017, he sure didn’t do it for the money. He did it because he had something important for us. While he doesn’t reference pandemics anywhere on the record, there’s never been a more appropriate time to to take an hour or so and absorb what he has to say than there is right now. It’s still streaming at youtube – with far fewer interruptions where you need to hit the mute button to kill the ads than there were when it first came out.

That cynical quote is from the title track. Once again, Waters – always a big-picture guy – gets it. We see all the President’s men in their surgical masks and we assume we have to be wearing them too – after all, those guys are all oligarchs, or wannabe oligarchs, and they look just like us! Or, they look like how they want us to look.

Beyond Waters’ own simple acoustic chords, there isn’t a lot of guitar on this album. That track, with its bell-like sonics and litany of people and faces – which bring 1983’s Every Stranger’s Eyes full circle – is the exception. Otherwise, it’s mostly strings and the former Pink Floyd bassist’s marvelously spacious, picturesque, gospel-inspired piano.

The album is symphonic to the nth degree, with several themes and variations. A ticking clock (or a bomb) that references Dark Side of the Moon is one of them. The melodies of a couple of iconic Floyd numbers from The Wall also figure into the equation. Lyrically, it’s as shattering, and insightful, and genuinely foundational as anything Waters ever wrote. In the years since, he has gone on to other equally important things – like advocating for Palestinian and Bolivian freedom fighters – but musically he’s as relevant as he’s ever been.

On one hand, Waters’ catalog reads like a doomsday book. Withering cynicism notwithstanding (and there’s A LOT of that here), his hope for a future based on compassion rather than greed remains unshakeable after all these years. At the end of the record, love conquers all: this apocalyptic news junkie gets off the screen.

But he reminds us never to forget past and present atrocities. Refugees on the run and and drone murders are recurrent themes: the bravery of being out of range tragically remains as much of a meme as it was when Waters put out his equally visionary Amused to Death album in 1992. Or for that matter, since long before Dark Side: “’Forward!’ He cried, from the rear, and the front rank died.”

Broken Bones, with its stately piano and grim strings, is one of the keys to this:

Though the slate was never wiped clean
We could have picked over them broken bones
We could have been free
But we chose to adhere to abundance
We chose the American Dream
And oh Mistress Liberty
How we abandoned thee
…Little babies mean us no harm
They have to be taught to despise us
To bulldoze our homes to the ground
To believe their fight is for liberty
To believe their God will keep them safe and sound
Safe and sound
Safe and sound
We cannot turn back the clock
Cannot go back in time
But we can say “fuck you,”
We will not listen to
Your bullshit and lies

Smell the Roses, another key track, sounds like Floyd’s Have a Cigar with good lyrics, calling bullshit on the military-industrial complex with characteristic down-to-earth elegance:

Wake up and smell the roses
Close your eyes and pray this wind won’t change
There’s nothing but screams in the field of dreams
Nothing but hope at the end of the road
Nothing but gold in the chimney smoke
…This is the room where they make the explosives
Where they put your name on the bomb
Here’s where they bury the buts and the ifs
And scratch out words like right and wrong

And there are a lot of really funny moments here. Trump gets snuffed out – or at least cut off mid-sentence, which for him is the same thing. Waters turns the “classic rock” radio staple Run Like Hell into a love song, which doesn’t come across quite as optimistically as that transformation might imply. And the reference to Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album is particularly spot-on. In a year where all the old paradigms are dying  faster than the abandoned patients in your average nursing home, this challenges us to reinvent ourselves. The alternative is in Waters’ narratives here, and in many grim songs from throughout his career. Is that the life we really want?

Shakey Graves’ Youtube Series Produces a Slyly Spot-On New Album

Shakey Graves’ sound has changed a lot since his wryly entertaining one-man-band days on the summer concert circuit over the last few years. But that’s ok – artists evolve. The question is whether Alejandro Rose-Garcia has simply followed his inner Badfinger muse, or if he’s been led astray by a holdover fringe of what’s left of the corporate music machine that imploded about fifteen years ago.

He’s definitely a lot more serious these days. The title track of his new ep Look Alive – a byproduct of his haphazardly inspired lockdown-era youtube series and streaming at Bandcamp– is a vampy 70s powerpop anthem. “I haven’t learned a thing since 1987,” he asserts – that’s the year he was born. Patrick O’Connor’s 12-string guitar riffs and a guitar-synth background linger throughout six sardonic minutes: long songs without digressive spoken-word interludes have not been this guy’s thing til now,

Jon Shaw’s boomy bass holds down the trip-hop groove of the second track, The Recipe, definitely a throwback: it’s an irresistibly funny look at really, REALLY bad branding. He mentions being free of some kind of past in Not Everything Grows, which follows a similar but more lo-fi pattern. The final product of this strange time is Under the Hood. “Use your eyes, don’t be easily deceived,” he warns calmly over an uncharacteristically woozy, techy backdrop. It speaks volumes that he uses autotune on the line “Don’t believe anything everyone tells you.” Big up to Shakey Graves for keeping the simple idea of a bunch of guys together in the studio making music alive at this pivotal historical moment.

Richly Jangly, Intricate, Smart Retro Rock Songcraft From Diane and the Gentle Men

What if the Dream Syndicate was fronted by a woman? That’s pretty damn high praise for singer Diane Gentile‘s new album White Sea, with her band the Gentle Men, streaming at Bandcamp – but a lot of the record sounds exactly like that. If imaginatively crafted, darkly bristling rock anthems with layers of guitars and keys and a distinctively downtown, oldschool New York ambience are your thing, this is your jam.

Drummer Colin Brooks opens the first track, Motorcycle, with a rolling surf riff. If the tight, dreampop-tinged downstroke pulse reminds you of recent Steve Wynn material, that makes sense since Wynn produced the song! All kinds of tasty touches here; a little creepy organ here, a surreal clang there from Wynn’s longtime Dream Syndicate sparring partner, Jason Victor, who plays lead guitar throughout the album

Track two, Perfect People is a new wave song as an older version of the DS – say, the Out of the Grey lineup – might have done it, Victor’s multitracks spiraling in both channels. It’s Gentile’s dis to shallow people in general. “Take off your makeup, wake up!” is the mantra.

The poignant, death-fixated Wicked Hours has a gorgeous web of acoustic guitars and keening, moody Victor slide work. The band rise from an elegant, spare waltz to a mighty sweep in the album’s similarly brooding title track.

Little Things could be an especially gritty early Blondie number. Gentile reaches for a towering angst in the backbear-driven, Orbisonian breakup anthem Just Pretend, then goes back to new wave with Boyfriend.

She mashes up catchy, vamping post-Velvets rock with a swirling, Lynchian anthemc sensibility in Joe: it’s a good guess that was the real name of the guy who didn’t work out. The album’s most chillingly relevant song is Memories, pushed along by bassist Matt Basile’s trebly growl with the rest of the band raging behind him. “And there’s not enough to pay the rent, the cost of living makes no sense, the dream I dream keeps me awake at night,” Gentile wails.

She closes the record counteirntuitively with a spare piano elegy, Second Hand Heart. On one hand, it’s always fun to discover music this smartly crafted. On the other, this kind of music is very imperiled at the moment. Gentile’s usual gig was booking one of the few remaining New York rock venues, Bowery Electric. Even with that kind of resume, survival is giong to be a struggle for everyone in the nightlife industry. A moratorium on evictions til just the middle of June isn’t realistic: we need rent amnesty in New York for the entirety of the coronavirus crisis.

Three New Singles For Tough Times

Every Friday night at 8, Charming Disaster’s web series airs at their youtube channel. Kotorino‘s Jeff Morris and Sweet Soubrette‘s Ellia Bisker started the project as a murder ballad duo and branched out to include both Kotorino’s latin noir and Sweet Soubrette’s dark folk and soul, among an increasing number of styles. Their latest single, I Am a Librarian is an elegantly waltzing throwback to their creepy early days. Are you awaiting the moment you make your escape? Charming Disaster feel your pain.

Smoota – the boudoir soul crooner alter ago of trombonist Dave Smith – also has a new single, Catch It! (The Coronavirus Boogie). It’s a great oldschool funk tune, but if you’re 65 or older, or immunocompromised, you, um, might want to think twice about this particular path to herd immunity.

Once and future HUMANWINE frontwoman Holly Brewer continues to release singles at a breakneck pace. The latest one is Good Ole Fashioned Protest Song, up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. Brewer has been a big-picture person for a long time: follow the money and you’ll find the perp, whether you’re talking about petty crime, or the nonsense coming out of the Oval Office.

A Mighty, Epic, Surreal Double Live Album From King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

Australian rock can be very surreal, and there’s none more surreal than psychedelic road warriors King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard‘s vast catalog. They put out albums at a frenetic pace, have a passion for edgy Middle Eastern tonalities and don’t show any sign of slowing down. Their latest release, Chunky Shrapnel – streaming at Bandcamp – is a lavish double live lp recorded at several European festivals last year. It’s the band at their most squalling, three-guitar intense: the swoosh and swirl of many of their studio records gets switched out for a roaring attack and a deliciously Balkan-tinged triptych at the end.

After a murky, ambient soundscape, the band launch into the sarcastic faux-lounge of The Rover. About three minutes in, they take a pause and then shift into high gear for some Os Mutantes tropicalia, a haphazard guitar solo from frontman Stu Mackenzie kicking off a long quasi-funk jam.

The group take their time straightening out the rhythm as they segue into the wryly titled Wah Wah, Ambrose Kenny-Smith’s organ lingering behind the guitars of Joey Walker and Cook Craig, As drummers Michael Cavanagh and Eric Moore pound away, they shift right into the jubilantly galloping, metal-tinged Road Train.

Lucas Harwood’s tricky, loopy bass riffage propels the distantly Middle Eastern-flavored Murder of the Universe, ablaze in oscillating guitar distortion. They hit a hardcore drive with the furious eco-disaster parable Planet B, winding down to a boomy bass loop. A London crowd goes nuts for a silly drum solo; then the Lizards (Wizards?) pick up right where they left off with a pummeling, acidic take of Venusian 2, from a Milan gig.

Hell is pretty much straight-up thrashmetal, with more of a delicious Middle Eastern chromatic tinge: it’s one of the record’s high points. The White Denim-style pseudo-soul of Let Me Mend the Past makes a jarring segue, even with its tastily shrieky guitar break.

The Turkish-flavored Inner Cells, with its tricky tempos, suspenseful keys and icepick bass, is another killer cut. The synth cleverly picks up that same Balkan riff and runs with it in Loyalty, switching out eventually for brooding mellotron. They continue the magnificently dark, dancing interlude with Horology and cap off the record with practically twenty-minute take of A Brief History of Planet Earth, part Grateful Dead, part Doors LA Woman with a little Balkan punk and Jethro Tull mixed in. This is one of the best albums these guys have ever made – and they’ve made a bunch.

The Dream Syndicate’s Most Epic, Psychedelic Masterpiece: A New Double Vinyl Record

The Dream Syndicate distinguish themselves from the legions of jambands out there with the sheer intensity and focus of the guitar duels between bandleader Steve Wynn and lead player Jason Victor – and their songs’ carefully crafted narratives. One of the band’s signature moves is to take Wynn’s tightly wound three-and-a-half-minute riff-rock gems and thrash the hell out of them.

Their new double viinyl album, The Universe Inside – streaming at Bandcamp – takes a turn in a radically different direction. It’s a suite, by far the band’s most psychedelic record: history may judge this as the fullest realization of the vision Wynn introduced on the band’s influential debut, The Days of Wine and Roses. There are element of jazz, art-rock and latin music here, but ultimately this is its own animal.

Bassist Mark Walton more or less loops a catchy, dry, trebly riff as Wynn and Victor triangulate in a spare exchange with guest Stephen McCarthy’s lingering guitar-sitar to open the album’s twenty-minute first track, The Regulator. Shards of reverb and sputters of sparks from the amps punctuate those succinct phrases amid the swirl and pulse: Chris Cacavas’ echoey electric piano becomes the icing on this space cake. With drummer Dennis Duck and percussionist Johnny Hott’s supple shuffle groove, Carlos Santana’s late 60s jams come to mind, but also Isaac Hayes’ sprawling psychedelic soul vamps – and Meddle-era Pink Floyd, and Angelo Badalamenti’s David Lynch film themes.

There’s a spoken-word vocal that concerns soothing the soul and blown fuses, both things this band know something about. Marcus Tenney’s one-man horn section wafts through the mix – some sax, some trumpet, sometimes both, frequently evoking Sonny Rollins’ work on the Stones’ Waiting on a Friend. It ends as you would expect it

The groove expands, the spacerock becoming more drifty in the second track, The Longing. This tragedy occurred “Like it happened moments ago, distant across the chasm…the harder you try to fix it, eliminate, deep-six it, all that remains is the longing,” Wynn sings, pushing against the top of his register.

The three six-string guys – that’s McCarthy on six-string bass here – trade off warmly major-key Ticket to Ride phrases as Apropos Of Nothing gets underway. It’s a classic, cynical, allusively grim Wynn narrative

What were you expecting
What did you become
Apropos of nothing
Chain reaction before the fall

And just when the band have lulled you into an alterred state, they hit a crunchy, roaring What Goes On drive.

The sardonic jousting that introduces the instrumental Dusting Off the Rust – a line from The Regulator – is one of the album’s funniest moments. This one’s a gritty slinker, a trippy dichotomy of punchy riffs and swirling cascades in the same vein as the spidery Topanga Canyon Freaks, from Wynn’s iconic 2001 Here Come the Miracles album.

The record’s final cut, The Slowest Rendition rises from a web of aching bent-note cries, to a pummeling drive and then a brooding, summery haze. Elegantly animated interplay aside, it’s one of Wynn’s most haunting, death-fixated songs. “Chaos flickers in the night” on “this silent, darkening, empty beach,” his disembodied narrator bracing for what comes next as the sax winds down. It’s an apt ending from the guy who wrote John Coltrane Stereo Blues. If there’s still a reason, or a means, for music blogs to exist at the end of 2020 – let’s hope there are – you will see this high on the annual best album of the year list here

A Menacing Heavy Psychedelic Gem From High Priestess

Los Angeles heavy psychedelic power trio High Priestess‘ latest release, Casting the Circle – streaming at Bandcamp – is one of the most understatedly haunting, trippy albums of the year so far. Throughout their slowly unwinding dirges, they use more imaginative sonics than your average doom metal band, from the varied guitar textures to their signature, otherworldly vocal harmonies.

They open it with the gorgeously Middle Eastern-tinged title track. Drummer Megan Mullins holds down a muted, steady suspense beneath guitarist Katie Gilchrest’s clanging, ringing acoustic/electric multitracks. Then Gilchrest hits her distortion pedal, joining voices with bassist/frontwoman Mariana Fiel, hitting a deliciously creepy wah guitar interlude.

The trio nick a riff from the macabre classical canon to open the dirgey, practically ten-minute second track, Erebus. Gilchrest’s many layers here, from crunch to clang to troubled, cautious blues and some noisy string-torturing, are just as lurid as the vocals: something about “blood on the sheets.”

Stately piano lingers behind the web of guitars in The Hourglass: imagine 70s psychedelic rockers Nektar at their slowest, with a pair of women out front. Invocation, one of this year’s longest and mesmerzing epics, is over seventeen minutes of rattling, Indian-tinged chromatics, washes of Black Angels distortion, gritty wah and an unexpected, Patti Smith style spoken-word interlude: New York’s great Desert Flower come to mind. As she does throughout the record, Mullins distinguishes herself as one of the most interesting, coloristic drummers in heavy music.

They close with the enigmatic chorale Ave Satanas, a typical move for this darkly individualistic group. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2020 page at the end of the year if there’s still reason for a music blog to exist at that point.

Rome Connects Brooding European Gothic and Irish Dark Folk Traditions

Rome‘s limited-edition vinyl album The Dublin Session may be in the hands of collectors now, but you can still hear this German-Irish project’s surprisingly lush blend of art-rock and stark folk noir at Spotify.

It’s all about gloomy ambience. In the brief, Gaelic-language introduction, the first two things you hear are bandleader Jerome Reuter’s stark, minor-key guitar fingerpicking and gusts of gale-force wind. Then the whole band, including the bouzouki and banjo, kick in on the pouncingly brooding Celtic battle anthem Antenora.

The gloom lifts temporarily when gothic crooner Thåström sings the slow, lush ballad Evropa Irredenta – but not in Latin. “Are you sleeping through the same nightmare?” he wants to know. Holy Ennui may have a jubilant backbeat, but the trouble isn’t over: “You miss the war, don’t you, brother?” Reuter asks.

The b-side begins with Slash ‘n‘ Burn, a slow, muted revolutionary anthem:

Lack of hope and misinformation
Do you really think that’s all it takes
To explain away all this agitation
…did you really think we’d stay quiet through it all?

With its slashing minor-chord variations, Vaterland is the album’s mighty, apocalyptic centerpiece “Are we to choose between wolves and swine?” Reuter poses. “We’re finished here,” a whispering choir responds. After that, the grimly romping banjo tune Mann für Mann is a logical next step

Surprisingly, the album ends on an upbeat note with the towering 6/8 sweep of Rakes and Rovers and then Matt’s Mazurka, which sounds a lot more Irish than Polish. Maybe we’re not staring straight into the abyss after all.

One of the World’s Sharpest, Funniest Song Stylists Salutes the Dearly Departed

Rachelle Garniez has gotten more ink from this blog than just about any other artist, starting with the very first concert ever reviewed here, an installment of Paul Wallfisch‘s fantastic and greatly missed Small Beast series in the late summer of 2011. Since then, she’s released plenty of studio material as well, from the song ranked best of 2015 here – the metaphorically searing, Elizabethan-tinged Vanity’s Curse, from her album Who’s Counting – to her charming, oldtimey-flavored An Evening in New York duo record with Kill Henry Sugar guitar wizard Erik Della Penna earlier this year.

The latest installment of Garniez’s recent creative tear is yet another album, Gone to Glory – streaming at Spotify – her first-ever covers record. The project took shape at a series of shows at East Village boite Pangea, beginning as an annual salute to artists who’d left us the previous year. The secret of playing covers is simple: either you do the song in a completely different way, or make it better than the original, otherwise it’s a waste of time. In this case, Garniez splits the difference between reinventions and improvements.

Playing piano, she opens the record with a quote that’s almost painfully obvious, but still too funny to give away. Then she switches to accordion over the strutting groove of drummer Dave Cole, bassist Derek Nievergelt and violist Karen Waltuch for a polka-tinged take of Motorhead’s Killed By Death. That’s the album’s funniest song, although most of the rest are equally radical reinventions: Garniez has a laserlike sense of a song’s inner meaning and teases that out here, time after time.

She does Prince’s Raspberry Beret as a country song and then discovers the slinky inner suspensefulness in a low-key, noir-tinged take of David Bowie’s Scary Monsters. It’s super creepier than the original, as is a slightly stormier version of Mose Allison’s Monsters of the Id. She switches to piano for a brooding, lush, string-infused version of Jimmy Dorsey’s My Sister and I, a World War II refugee’s tale originally sung by Bea Wain in 1941.

Aretha Franklin is represented twice. Garniez’s droning accordion imbues The Day Is Past and Gone with an otherworldly druid-folk ambience. Her whispery, subtle solo piano take of Day Dreaming is all the more sultry for its simmering calm and mutedly cajoling intensity. Her tender delivery of a pillowy, orchestrated version of Della Reese’s Don’t You Know has much the same effect.

She keeps the sepulchral stillness and poignancy going through a folky arrangement of Kenny Rogers’ disabled veteran’s lament Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town – it’s infinitely sadder than the original. Sharon Jones’ 100 Days, 100 Nights gets a dark bolero-tinged interpretation that rises to a brassy peak

Garniez mashes up a little Piazzolla into her gently lilting version of Frank Mills, from the Hair soundtrack, playing up the song’s stream-of-consciousness surrealism. Nancy Wilson’s How Glad I Am has a lush retro 60s soul vibe, in a Bettye LaVette vein.

Garniez’s spare, gospel-tinged piano and subued vocals reveal the battle fatigue in the worn-down showbiz narrative of Glenn Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy. She closes the record with an apt, guardedly hopeful cover of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem. There’s a crack in everything, and that’s how Rachelle Garniez gets in.

Big up to the rest of the ensemble, who elevate many of these songs to symphonic levels: violinists Paul Woodiel and Cenovia Cummins, violist Entcho Todorov, cellist Mary Wooten, french horn player Jacob Garniez, multi-reedman Steve Elson, trombonist Dan Levine, trumpeter John Sneider, harpist Mia Theodoratis, harmonica player Randy Weinstein and backing vocalists Amanda Homi and Jeremy Beck.