Tribecastan might be the ultimate kitchen-sink band. The sprawling New York group play deviously lighthearted original psychedelic music in styles from all over the world, from every era, combined in one giant hempseed stirfry of crunchy goodness. Their classic album is their 2009 debut, Strange Cousin: it’s their darkest, with a much more Balkan/Middle Eastern feel than their subsequent work. But their new one, officially out this coming February 7 and aptly titled New Deli, is a lot of fun. They’re playing tonight at Joe’s Pub at 7: if eclectic, trippy acoustic music is your thing, you should check them out.
The core of the band, John Kruth plays fretted instruments and flutes alongside his co-conspirator Jeff Greene on the rest of the fretted instruments in the band’s collective museum (five, just for his part) plus many percussion instruments as well. Their fellow travelers on this effort include Ween’s Dave Dreiwitz on bass, Scott Metzger on guitar, Steve Turre on trombone and shells, ex-Mink DeVille percussionist Boris Kinberg, John Turner on trumpet, Claire Daly on baritone sax, Cracker’s Kenny Margolis on keyboards plus cameos by the Master Musicians of Jajouka’s Bachir Attar, the Klezmatics’ Matt Darriau, Badal Roy and a horde of other special guests.
The opening track, Song for Kroncha, is typical: a Guyanese-style soca tune that takes a turn into bhangra. On a similar tip, Bed Bugs is a blithe Indian-flavored flute tune gone soca – these bed bugs are obviously well fed! Louie’s Luau also offers a taste of the tropics, a calypso-spiced New Orleans second line march done with fretted instruments plus brass and spiky mandolin (is that a mandolin? you never know with these guys) and jews harp. The band quotes from the Human League’s Keep Feeling Fascination underneath a flurrying mandolin (mandocello? rebab?) solo in Dive Bomber, a bracing Greek rembetiko dance with…are you ready…blues harp.
As with their previous album, Five Star Cave, the best songs here are the more serious ones. There’s A Crack in the Clouds, a wistful, catchy 6/8 anthem with flutes and cautious, brooding picking, and Jovanka, a Middle Eastern-flavored tango with a rich bed of fretted instruments and zither, Turner’s trumpet rising warily over the mysterious ambience, then giving way to Daly’s increasingly agitated baritone sax. The pensive bolero El Bumpa is another standout. The rest of the tracks include Daddy Barracuda, which resembles another wryly bluesy, psychedelic New York band, Hazmat Modine; the funky One Day His Axe Fell Into Honey, with its forest of flutes; the carefree, swinging The Brain Surgeon’s Wife Serves Lunch; and The Mystery of Licorice McKechnie, a weirdly amorphous jajouka tune.
There are also some covers here. Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Freaks for the Festival is done as a funky, vividly carnivalesque organ-and-brass tune with those spiky fretted things and a woozy, bluesy Metzger electric guitar solo. Don Cherry’s Guinea gets a rustic, hypnotic treatment with flutes over a harmonium backdrop that hints at reggae. There’s also a couple of duds: Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, which even the great Eric Burdon couldn’t rescue from schlockdom, and a pair of cloying Ornette Coleman ditties. Go to Joe’s Pub and scream for originals.