New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Sam Merrick drums

A Well-Traveled Americana Guitarslinger Returns to a Familiar Williamsburg Haunt

Back in the day, like most music blogs, New York Music Daily got involved in the club booking business. The choice of venue, with its utterly Lynchian, red velvet-themed back room and intimate sonics, seemed perfect.

Looking back, it was cursed. Hurricane Katrina knocked out power all over town, flooded the space, and delayed opening night by a week. We ended up doing it all acoustic, with no electricity.

Subway service was plagued by an endless series of problems for months afterward, making it next to impossible for musicians from Brooklyn and Queens to get into Manhattan. Trying to lure an audience out under those conditions proved even more of a challenge. There were other issues, and a lawsuit against the landlord which the venue owners lost. Zirzamin closed abruptly in July of 2013. David Lynch movies are great fun to watch, but not to live through.

Still, the music was phenomenal. It was like being a kid in a candy store. Go back through the archives for a time capsule of some of New York’s best talent at the time, most of whom were far too popular to be expected to play a space this small.

One of those artists was Jon LaDeau.

What was most obvious about him was his guitar chops. He knew his blues, and oldtime Americana, and jamband rock, and he didn’t waste notes. A lot of the time he played with a slide. He had a comfortable, confident way with a tune and a low-key presence as a singer.

Over the years, he kept at it. It was validating to see him refining those chops at gigs all over town, most recently at the now badly missed Friday night series at the American Folk Art Museum, in 2018 and 2019. His latest release, Time Capsules – streaming at Bandcamp – is a short album from earlier this year. As you would expect from a record put out during the lockdown, it’s haunted by uncertainty and a theme of time lost forever.

The first track, Younger Days is an undulating number driven by guest Chris Parker’s slide guitar and layers of multitracks from LaDeau. The obvious comparison is the Grateful Dead (or Widespread Panic, for that matter). It’s over in less than three minutes.

Mayteana Morales takes a turn on soulful lead vocals on the title track, a slowly swaying ballad in 6/8 time, Justin LaDeau adding quaint, retro Nashville saloon piano. The group stay in a 6/8 vintage soul groove, picking up the pace a little in the next track, Alone, the bandleader’s spare, incisive guitar rising amid Steve Okonski’s organ.

The surreal final cut, Cemetery Road has the most guitar snarl and bite here. It could be a lockdown parable: “We wanna be free, we wanna go home to the things that we love,” as LaDeau puts it. He’s making a return to the stage at one of his old haunts, Pete’s Candy Store, with an unrestricted show on July 6 at 8:30 PM.

Bombay Rickey Put Out a Hauntingly Twangy, Exhilarating Debut Album

Brooklyn band Bombay Rickey‘s new album Cinefonia – streaming at Bandcamp – has got to be the best debut release of 2014, hands down. With twangy guitars, hypnotic grooves and frontwoman/accordionist Kamala Sankaram’s shattering five-octave vocals, the band blends surf music, psychedelic cumbias, Bollywood and southwestern gothic into a lusciously tuneful, darkly bristling mix. Bollywood is usually the root source lurking somewhere in each of the album’s ten surprise-packed, shapeshifting songs, but cumbia, spaghetti western soundtracks, and the Ventures in their border-rock moments are more-or-less constant reference points as well. Imagine a more south Asian-influenced Chicha Libre fronted by one of the most exhilarating voices in any style of music, a picture that becomes clearer considering that Sankaram got the inspiration for this project the night she teamed up with Chicha Libre for one-off Yma Sumac cover show. Bombay Rickey are venturing north from their Barbes home base to play a Manhattan album release show on Sept 8 at 8 PM at Joe’s Pub; advance tix are $12, which is the closest thing to a bargain as you’ll ever get at this shi-shi venue.

Sankaram’s voice could shatter a black hole, never mind glass. Much as she’s built a very versatile career (everybody from Philip Glass, to free jazz icon Anthony Braxton, to opera companies, keep her busy), this band seems to be a defiant attempt to resist all attempts at being pigeonholed. Then again, defiance is a familiar trait with her: when she’s not fronting other groups, she’s writing and performing her own politically transgressive operas.

Guitarist/keyboardist Drew Fleming is a connoisseur of 60s surf and psychedelic sounds. Saxophonist/clarinetist Jeff Hudgins has a fondness for Mediterranean and Balkan tonalities; bassist Gil Smuskowitz shifts effortlessly between idioms, as do drummer Sam Merrick, percussionists Timothy Quigley and Brian Adler. The album opens with a Sumac tune, Taki Rari – it sounds like Los Mirlos‘ surf-cumbia classic Sonido Amazonico going down the Ganges. The interchange of accordion, strings, a sizzling sax solo and Sankaram’s electrifying shriek at the end are a visceral thrill, and do justice to the woman who sang it first.

Bombay 5-0, by Sankaram, transcends an awkward venture into takadimi drum language, Hudgins’ uneasy sax setting the stage for a big, dramatic, arioso vocal crescendo. Promontory Summit, a Fleming tune, explores dusky, hallucinatory desert rock vistas, bookended by balmy jazz-tinged ambience. The version of the Bollywood classic Dum Maro Dum (meaning “take another toke”) here is a lot more subtle and creepily suspenseful than either the boisterous, horn-fueled original or the many covers other bands have done over the years.

Pondicherry Surf Goddess, by Hudgins, starts out as an ambling shout-out to the Ventures, then winds its way through blistering newshchool Romany funk and art-rock. Another Hudgins tune, the somewhat menacing El Final Del Pachanga evokes Peruvian psychedelic legends Los Destellos, Hudgins’ sax intertwining with Sankaram’s supersonic vocal flights, Fleming following with a deliciously spiraling surf guitar solo.

Fleming sings the Johnny Horton-ish Coyote in the Land of the Dead, which sounds suspiciously like a parody. Likewise, Sankaram’s similarly deadpan rhumba-ish arrangement of a popular Mozart theme, which might have taken its cue from Chicha Libre covering Wagner. The high point among many on this album is a Sankaram composition, Pilgram, her wickedly precise, loopy accordion winding through a misterioso, lingering, surfy stroll with ominous bass and alto sax solos, the latter building to a spine-tingling coda. The album winds up with another darkly cinematic Sankaram number, Toco’s Last Stand, blending Balkan-flavored sax, dancing accordion and terse surf guitar underneath the singer’s unearthly wail. It’s a teens counterpart to the Ventures’ classic Besame Mucho Twist. This might not just be the best debut album of the year: it might be the best album of 2014, period.