New York Music Daily

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Tag: stoner music

Purposeful, Darkly Heavy Psychedelia and Blues From All Them Witches

Nashville hasn’t historically been a rock hotspot, but there’s been a lot of good stuff coming out of there recently without the hint of country twang. Heavy psych band All Them Witches are at the front of the pack. Their latest album, ATW, is streaming at Bandcamp. Their riff-rock is more minimal than Led Zep, less envelopingly hypnotic than the Black Angels, although there are moments where these guys very closely resemble those two very different groups.

The album’s first track, Fishbelly 86 Onions is a circling, staggered riff-rock mini-epic. “Never thought he would wake up from a fistfight,” frontman/guitarist Charles Michael Parks Jr. intones. “Never thought he would get knocked down,” he adds. Finally the cuts loose with the vibrato on the guitar; the bass doubling Jonathan Draper’s reverbtoned Fender Rhodes electric piano lines add to the smoky atmosphere. All of a sudden, six minutes in, it hits you: these guys haven’t changed chords yet!

“Like a warhorse caught in the stable,” Parks explains as the band builds a darkly rustic, 19th century blues-influenced groove in Workhorse.  “They want to feel the wheels of control…they wanna see me work in a cage, see me bleed.” It could be a heavier take on the kind of ferociously populist gutter blues the Sideshow Tragedy were doing a couple of years ago.

Drummer Robby Staebler steers the band through the tricky changes of the vintage Zep-flavored 1st vs. 2nd with a nimbly crushing attack. “I’ve been counting the seconds, I’ve been waiting too long,” is the mantra.

The brooding Half-Tongue is a gorgeously spare heavy blues, Parks’ jagged Chicago guitar lines over Draper’s smoky Hammond organ. The album’s darkest number, Diamond is almost as stark, finally building to a menacing, chromatic drive fueled by Parks and fellow guitarist Ben McLeod before returning to a deadpool ambience that sounds like the Black Angels covering Blue Oyster Cult.

The band go back to slow, heavy minor-key blues for album’s longest epic, Harvest Feast, which is definitely a feast of clanging, echoing, wailing and burning guitar textures, orchestrated with immense subtlety for a band this heavy. The way they edge toward Grateful Dead territory without losing focus is an especially cool touch.

The band turn on a dime from a drony jet engine intro to a shamanistic pulse as HJTC gets underway: it could be the Black Angels reduced to simplest and darkest terms. They wind up the album Rob’s Dream, a slow, spare, eerily warpy minor psych-blues tableau that finally rises to a scorching peak: British legends the Frank Flight Band come to mind. Despite a recent lineup shuffle, this captures one of this country’s most individualistic psychedelic bands at the top of their uneasy game.

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More Brown Acid For Halloween Month

Halloween month this year is turning out to be a long, strange trip around here. In celebration of the creepiness coming up at the end of the month, there’s a sixth compilation in the Brown Acid series of obscure proto-metal and heavy psych treasures, most of them from the 60s and early 70s.

Most of the dozens of bands anthologized in the series never made more than a few singles at best. Many made only one. Some of those 45’s sell for thousands of dollars on the collectors market, but the Brown Acid folks have made them available for people who don’t have hedge funds or trust funds. And they actually pay royalties to the surviving artists. Imagine – buy the vinyl and you’re actually helping support some old weedhead.

The most recent vinyl release Brown Acid: The Sixth Trip – streaming at Bandcamp – is the most R&B, psychedelic soul and funk-influenced volume to date. It kicks off with No Parking, by San Franciso band Gold, which welds frantically scampering Blues Magoos garage rock to amped-up R&B. Like a lot of these singles, it’s mixed in mono, an effect which actually helps hold the convulsive outro together.

Inferno, by Canadian group Heat Exchange, comes across as a more nimble version of Cream, with tasty twin leads from guitar and organ and a shockingly good, biting alto sax solo before the wah-wah kicks in. Lovin’ You, by Travis (not the late 90s British arena-rock band) is a slinky,psychedelic soul groove that could almost pass for very early Hendrix. Enoch Smoky’s It’s Cruel distinguishes itself with one of the tastiest, fattest basslines in the entire series: don’t let the fact that it’s basically a supercharged Brill Building pop tune scare you off.

Backwood Memory’s Give Me Time is a vintage psychedelic soul nugget: it’s too bad the band never connected with a record label that could buy some airplay. One of the funnier titles in the collection, Luvin, Huggin & More, by Flight, sounds like a prototype for Bachman-Turner Overdrive recorded on somebody’s home stereo, guitars pinned in the red. Which comes as no surprise – six years after “releasing” this in 1974, bandleader Victor Blecman had a left-field new wave hit with Space Invaders.

Midnight Horsemen, by Truth & Janey, has a loping, funky beat and a doublespeed bridge that almost falls apart: if REO Speedwagon had started out in the 60s, they might have sounded something like this. My Life, by West Minst’r, is the most generic riff-rock track here, although the befuddled lyrics are really funny.

Purgatory’s Polar Expedition is a hippie blues bounce that could be Brownsville Station covering the Doors. Boston hippie Johnny Barnes’ Steele Rail Blues could be early Thin Lizzy. before the label censors edited out the weed references: it’s the one track here that could have been edited down to two minutes fifty seconds without sacrificing anything. The album winds up on a high point with Chicago rockers Zendik’s wickedly catchy, 13th Floor Elevators-tinged There No Peace. The biting diminished chords and “god is dead” mantra make you wish there was more material from this talented, insightful crew.

Devil’s horns raised to the skies for the tireless playlisters here who’ve dedicated literally thousands of hours to giving this music the audience it’s deserved for decades but never reached until recently.

What Would Halloween Month Be Without Brown Acid?

What’s more Halloweenish than LSD? If you’re lucky, you associate it with laughing fits and the ability to consume ridiculous amounts of alcohol without feeling it. But anyone who’s experienced knows the flipside, which can be the distilled essence of macabre. Very few of the songs in the Brown Acid compilations actually reference the drug, pro or con. Do these playlists, whose raison d’etre is to exhume buried treasures from the 60s and 70s at the magic moment when psychedelia got really heavy and started to morph into metal,  actually make a good soundtrack for tripping? Depends on your taste – or maybe your condition.

There are now six Brown acid collections available for stoners and fans of what was called hard rock back in the 60s and 70s. Each compilation is very eclectic: there’s doom metal, stoner boogie, a surprising amount of psychedelic soul, and heavy psych. The fifth one, which is streaming at Bandcamp and available on vinyl, turns out to be more garage and Britrock-influenced.

Track one is No Reason, by Captain Foam, a catchy piece of tumbling Dave Clark Five Britpop turbocharged with fuzzy guitars with the reverb turned all the way up, in the same vein as Spooky Tooth or the Move at their heaviest. The spacy instrumental bridge leaves you wanting several minutes more.

George Brigman’s Blowin’ Smoke is a Hendrix knockoff without the Hendrix – they could have left this one in its dusty sleeve. But Nothing in the Sun, a 1968 rarity by Milwaukee rockers Finch, is a post-Velvets gem: it’s more proto-glam than proto-metal, cheap amps driven to deliver every ounce of buzz and feedback they can as the lead guitar goes up the scale.

The smoky organ over the trebly, jagged heartbeat bassline in Cybernaut’s instrumental Clockwork sounds like Uriah Heep with a Ph.D. – the rhythmic changes are a neat psychedelic touch. The album’s A-side ends with Fargo’s Abbadon, its weirdo religious imagery and twisted early Moody Blues-meet-the-MC5 vibe.

Side 2 opens with Mammoth, by Mammoth (yup), adding a wild, woolly edge to what would otherwise be a mostly one-chord, early Kinks-ish R&B vamp. Icky Blicky, by Flasher opens with the turn of a key in the ignition and then hits a psychedelic soul pulse: Rare Earth comes to mind in this surreal tale about a guy so high he apparently can’t move his car. Fireball, by obscure Canadian band Lance, is a grittier take on what Bowie was doing on Aladdin Sane, while Zebra’s cover of Helter Skelter goes in a psychedelic soul direction and is a little slower than the original (how did the compilers afford what it must have cost to license this?!?!)

The album’s final cut is Lick It, by Thor – keep in mind that this was made long before Spinal Tap, and before gangsta rap made coyly smutty rock innuendos seem like a quaint artifact. Cowbell and fuzztones rule here, a growling lead track half-buried in the mix. The song isn’t quite as funny as Be On My Side, by Fragile & the Eggs, but it’s close. Further proof that the major label history of rock music only tells a tiny fraction of the story.

Blackberry Smoke Kick Out the Jams on Their Latest Epic Tour

The high point of Blackberry Smoke’s Manhattan show this past evening happened about midway through, a twisted, surreal kaleidoscope of sunbaked Georgia clay refracted upward into grim, grey Pink Floyd atmospherics, anchored by drummer Brit Turner’s steady sway. As frontman/guitarist Charlie Starr pulled away from the center with a sudden, Gilmouresque howl, Paul Jackson stayed steady, plucking icy chordlets from his hollow-body Gretsch to light up the somber mist. Keyboardist Brandon Still, who up to this point had switched effortlessly from funky, echoey Fender Rhodes to some spot-on honkytonk piano, built a black swirl of organ beneath the ominous skies above.

By the time the jam was over, Starr had referenced Hendrix, the Grateful Dead (several times) and maybe Neil Young before leading the band into a dirtbag verse or two of the Beatles’ Come Together. Bassist Richard Turner’s graceful, boomy McCartney licks were almost comical, in contrast with the grimy detour the band had suddenly taken. Maybe it wasn’t as cartoonishly funny as the Aerosmith cover, but it worked as comic relief. And it was one of umpteen moments during the show reaffirming the eternal popularity of jambands – and why Blackberry Smoke are one of the best in the business.

Obviously, most jambands don’t have the songs, or the snide lyrical impact that Blackberry Smoke’s most recent material has. They had the crowd singing along practically from the first chorus of Fire in the Hole, the outlaw redneck rock anthem they used to open the show. Just like the last time these guys passed through town, the audience was fistpumping and raising devil’s horns to Waiting for the Thunder, Starr’s ripsnorting, fryolator-guitar fueled diatribe about the divergence between the rich and the underclasses. The song is a lot more vivid than that statement – and it was awfully validating to see a bunch of out-of-towners getting down with a protest anthem. Even if Lynyrd Skynyrd could have written a song like this one, they never would have gotten away with it.

Whether Blackberry Smoke are doing that, or twangy party anthems – and there were plenty of those in the mix – they haven’t lost touch with their populist roots. Case in point: Best Seat in the House, from the band’s latest full-length album, Find a Light, a cynical, backbeat-driven anthem told from the defiant point of view of a working class kid whose ambition doesn’t go much further than that.

Likewise, the funniest point of the evening was when Starr introduced Run Away From It All, a muted, brooding would-be escapee’s tale to open a brief more-or-less acoustic segment. “We haven’t had much luck with radio,” he admitted. “Then I looked around the house and couldn’t remember if I owned a radio.” Over a long enough timeline, all technologies’ survival rates drop to zero.

In contrast with that stark cynicism, the band ran through plenty of sidewinding stomps, a simmering peach pie of southern twang and Stonesy snarl. And then they’d suddenly get serious with a gloomy, toweringly lingering, cinematic mini-epic like the death-obsessed Running Through Time.

The seemingly endless Blackberry Smoke tour continues; the next stop with anything approaching affordable tickets is at Sept 13 at 7:30 PM at the Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S Main St. in Concord, New Hampshire where it will cost Granite Staters $35 to get in.

State-of-the-Art Americana Jamband Rock to Close Out This Year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival

Margo Price dropped a bombshell at Lincoln Center a couple nights ago. Taking her only turn of the evening at the piano for the Lennonesque ballad All American Made, she recalled how by 1987, the world had discovered that “Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders of Iran.” To any student of American history, the October Surprise and the Iran-Contra affair are old news. But for a self-described Midwest farmer’s daughter to mention the ugly truth about that President – who despite every shred of evidence remains a hero throughout parts of that world – it was a radical move.

As the song goes, it wasn’t the first time something like that has happened, and it won’t be the last. And the current blitzkrieg against immigrants makes her want to run for the border. That was Price’s only unvarnished political song in a set of high quality, deep-fried southern jamband rock. Unsurprisingly, it was also the number that drew the loudest roars of appreciation from a crowd who’d braved the threat of a torrential downpour to come out to see her.

Price’s music seems to be contrived to appeal to every single potential audience member on the summer festival circuit. As a fierce frontwoman with a big wail that with a few nuanced tweaks works equally well in classic honkytonk, 60s soul and bluesy rock, Price delivers for the ladies. The six hairy dudes working up a sweat behind her seem like they’d be just as much at home in many other styles beyond choogilng four-on-the-floor rock. The best and most epic of the big psychedelic numbers, Cocaine Cowboy, featured long interludes for Jamie Davis’ stinging electric blues guitar, Luke Schneider’s searing, noisy pedal steel  and the night’s most nebulous break, where keyboardist Micah Hulscher abandoned his judicious Rhodes chords for swirls and dips of string synth straight out of the early Genesis playbook – to the point where band members were exchanging “where the hell are we” grins with each other.

Price went behind a second drumkit for that one. She knows what she’s doing back there, and she flurried up a storm when she played acoustic guitar – which she did throughout the majority of a long set. She stayed behind that kit for the song after that, a wryly undulating take of the Grateful Dead’s Casey Jones, which the band ended with an irresistibly amusing stampede out. It never hurts to know your subject matter.

The rest of the show ranged from careening electric honkytonk numbers like Paper Cowboy and Put a Hurting on the Bottle – with spot-on detours into George Jones and Willie Nelson classics – along with a defiant,snarlingly amped oldschool C&W breakup ballad. The covers were a mixed bag: the band found soul-infused redemption for Tom Petty but could not do the same for Melanie Safka or Dolly Parton’s disco era. Throughout the night, individual band members kept solos short and sweet, often trading off, up to mighty peaks or descents toward suspense. Most of the crowd who’d stuck around gathered down at the front; at the end of the show, Price rewarded them by flinging roses from a big bouquet into the crowd, one by one.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real were a hard act to follow. It’s hardly an overstatement to rank Nelson alongside fellow Texas blues greats like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Freddie King. Yet Nelson kept his guitar solos much more concise than either of those two hotheads – maybe because he’d learned that trick playing with another great Texas guitarslinger, his dad Willie. This band is excellent: bassist Corey McCormick was a spring-loaded presence throughout the set and made his one long solo count, hard. Drummer Anthony LoGerfo swung like crazy alongside conguero Tato Melgar, and organist/pianist Jesse Siebenberg doubled on second guitar and lapsteel as well.

They opened with the spaciest number of the night, a multi-part epic about aliens that veered from post Neil Young electric intensity to echoes of Pink Floyd during a long, starry interlude. From there they blended oldschool soul, Texas shuffles and stark red dirt folk with a surreal humor that brought to mind Nelson’s famous dad as much as the vocals did. Yet Lukas Nelson’s voice is a lot bigger, even if he has that signature twang.

They brought the lights down for a pensive, solo acoustic take of Just Outside of Austin?and then what seemed like a rewrite of Gentle on My Mind – the younger Nelson clearly has just as much of a thing for classic Nashville songwriting as his dad. After a slight return to Led Zep-influenced riff-rock, Nelson encored with a brand-new acoustic number where he resolved to “turn off the news and build a garden.” Clearly, Price wasn’t the only populist on this bill.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors may be done for 2018, but there’s the annual Brooklyn Americana Festival, taking place all over Dumbo Sept 20-23, to look forward to.

Dustlights Build a Catchy, Ethereal Sonic Cocoon

Dustlights’ enveloping debut album In a Stillness – streaming at Bandcamp – has a vastness you’d never expect from just a trio of sax, bass and drums. Part trip-hop, part stoner soundscape and part postrock, like Tortoise at their most concise, it’s music to get lost in. Yet bandleader/saxophonist Joe MF Wilson’s riffs have a purpose and directness that matches the material’s deep-space proportions, beefed up with layers of echo, reverb and other effects. The trio are playing the album release show tomorrow night, Aug 6 at around 10 PM at Wonders of Nature. Gritty, guitar-fueled postrockers Star Rover play beforehand at 9; cover is $10.

The album’s opening cut, Stolen Treasures and the Sea sets the stage for the rest of the album, bassist Ran Livneh (of amazing Ethio-jazz jamband Anbessa Orchestra) and drummer David Christian maintaining a litheness under Wilson’s catchy, subtly wafting hooks. Livneh’s hypnotic looping melody underpins the plaintive rainy-day melody, lingering ambience and hints of Ethiopiques in the second cut, Lifeworld

Throught Awoke, ghe rhythm section build a subtly echoing trip-hop groove beneath Wilson’s washes overhead. Blades That Bend has tastily astringent hints of Afrobeat contrasting with its balmy, low-key, minimalist pulse, while Tea Wars, with its flickering drum hardware and contrasting bass multitracks, is hardly bellicose.

The aptly titled, spare yet spacious Empty Porch Chairs floats along slowly; it’s arguably the album’s most nocturnal piece. Then the group pick up the pace – at least as much as they do here – with Night Tide, an echoey, rather wistful theme grounded by the rhythm section’s tight persistence, rising to a very unexpected peak.

Heart Counts begins as a ballad in disguise, featuring Wilson’s warmest phrasing here, then becomes a battle in disguise – more or less. With its dub reggae echoes, the album’s most animated, catchiest track is Shaken. The group wind it up with the epic Inner Stillness, practically ten minutes of spare, misty tectonic shifts over mystical, spacious djembe and bass pulses. Put this on and drift off to a better place.

Barclay James Harvest at Lincoln Center!?!

It was great to finally get to see Barclay James Harvest at Lincoln Center Out of Doors this past evening. Now THAT’S one for the bucket list.

Barclay James Harvest got their start in the 70s as an uptight, tunefully deficient jamband, sort of a prototype for My Morning Jacket. Then they morphed into a competent artsy pop band best known for recycling other peoples’ ideas. The music media at the time called them on it; their snarky response was the song Poor Man’s Moody Blues, whose title perfectly captures their appeal. Their cult classic is Suicide, an actually very poignant ballad with a surprise ending. The rest of their material was not up to that level. Random song title: Galadriel. Genuine hobbit-rock!

OK, it wasn’t Barclay James Harvest who headlined last night. It was Jonathan Wilson. He’s a superstar lead guitarist, the best player to hold down that chair in Roger Waters’ band since Jeff Beck’s brief tenure in the group. He also writes artsy pop songs that recycle other peoples’ ideas. His influences are unimpeachable. The Beatles, and John Lennon especially…Pink Floyd, of course…Elliott Smith, all over the place…the Grateful Dead…Hendrix…Crowded House! Big Star! The Move! The Jayhawks, Marty Willson-Piper and Matt Keating, maybe. And also Neil Young and the Allman Brothers.

Wilson is a competent, unpretentious singer, doubles on piano and writes the occasional withering, cynical turn of phrase. His latest album threatens to descend to the level of James Blunt but doesn’t sink quite that far. Onstage, Wilson was a completely different animal, even though he tantalized the crowd by treating them to a grand total of four guitar solos. Each was scintillating; his long, achingly intense, Gilmouresque interlude midway through the set, over the changes to Pink Floyd’s Breathe, was the high point of the night.

His Telecaster player was just as good when he got the chance to cut loose, with a slide or with some stinging Chicago blues (props to Wilson for having the confidence to include a guy with similarly sizzling, eclectic chops in his band). The bassist doubled strangely on synth bass (why not just use a volume pedal?). The keyboardist used seemingly every patch ever invented, from squiggly vintage 70s Moog sounds, to vast washes of string synth, majestic organ and austere electric piano.

They opened with the fuzztone Carnaby Street psych-pop tune Trafalgar Square, elevated above Oasis level with an unexpected, spacy interlude. Over the Midnight came across as the Verve played by good musicians. Likewise, There’s a Light was a more glam Elliott Smith (or Oasis with a better singer covering Elliott Smith). They ended the show auspiciously with a long, vamping art-rock epic featuring one of two cameos by special guest Laaraji on zither and backing vocals.

One song they didn’t play was a sneering waltz from the new album, with its most relevant lyric:

We’ll be sucking, we’ll be fucking
While the other ones are posting
These kids will never rock again
A sign of the times

The opening act drew a few gaggles of awkward New Jersey high school girls, a few of whom had brought along their similarly unsure-looking pretend boyfriends. Years ago, there was a big market for indifferent, vaguely melancholy upper middle class white women who set their diary entries to music. In the years since, the corporate record labels, by their own admission, have lost 90% of their influence. Back in the day, Natalie Merchant used to play Madison Square Garden. The best this girl can do is open a show at Bowery Ballroom. Is that more a function of the death of the record industry, or the decline of the middle class?

Lincoln Center Out of Doors continues out back in Damrosch Park on Aug 2 at 7:30 PM with a high-voltage set by the Nigerian “Queen of Afrobeat” Yemi Alade. Get there early if you want a seat.

A Deliciously Psychedelic Album and a Saturday Night Barbes Show by One of New York’s Best Bands

Lately Bombay Rickey are calling themselves “operatic surf noir.” What’s coolest about that observation is that this irrepressible, individualistic group realize just how dark a lot of surf rock is – and how much grand guignol there is in opera. In reality, the only real western opera references in their music are channeled via frontwoman/accordionist/sitarist Kamala Sankaram’s spectacular, practically five-octave vocals. Otherwise the group transcend their origins as a Yma Sumac cover band, mashing up cumbia, Bollywood, spaghetti western, brassy Nancy Sinatra Vegas noir and even classical ragas into a wildly psychedelic, danceable vindaloo. Their new album Electric Bhairavi is streaming at Bandcamp, and they’re headlining their usual haunt, Barbes, this Saturday night at 10 PM.

The album title refers to the Indian goddess: Bhairavi is Lord Shiva’s squeeze, an eastern counterpart of sorts to Hera in Greek mythology. While the band can jam like crazy in concert, the new album is surprisingly more terse. The first track is a wildly psychedelic, Bollywoodized reinvention of the old Yma Sumac hit Virgenes del Sol, Sankaram vocalizing with tongue-in-cheek, pointillistic, Verdi-ish flair over Drew Fleming’s spiky guitar, alto saxophonist Jeff Hudgins adding a luscious solo packed with otherworldly microtones and chromatics.

The group kick off Frantic with a scream: from there, they veer from Fleming’s growling guitar against Sankaram’s flitting accordion, down to a pulsing, insectile, distangly bhangra-tinged interlude where drummer Brian Adler gets his hardware flickering, Hudgins’ sax channeling a neon-crazed moth. Kohraa, one of the band’s catchiest and most wickedly serpentine live numbers, has a slinky guaguanco beat and an uneasy interweave of surf guitar, accordion and sax. Sankaram blends allure and nuance in this beachy reminiscence.

Bhonkers – a typical title for this band – leaps between a wistfully opaque, accordion-fueled raga theme and tinges of sunbaked border rock. Likewise, Megalodon – saluting a sea monster who’s been extinct for forty thousand years – alternates between lush majesty and surf drive, Adler and bassist Gil Smuskowitz’s pulsing, syncopated riff signaling the charge.

Gopher is classic Bombay Rickey, a sly mashup of mambo, psychedelic cumbia and Bollywood. Sankaram’s droll Betty Boop accents bring to mind another  brilliant New York singer, Rachelle Garniez, in similarly sardonic mode, Hudgins and Fleming both kicking in with bristling solos. LIkewise, with Sa-4-5, they make dramatic raga-rock out of a spine-tingling, well-known Indian carnatic vocal riff.

Meri Aakhon Mein Ek Sapna Hai brings a purloined Meters strut back full circle from Bollywood: this band can really jam out the funk when they want, Hudgins pulling out all the microtonal stops as he weaves around, Sankaram reaching back for extra power in her vocalese solo during a long, hypnotic interlude over Adler’s tabla. 

The album’s most brooding track, Cowboy & Indian is a reference to band heritage – Fleming is a native Texan while the California-born Sankaram’s background is Indian. It’s an unexpectedly elegaic southwestern gothic ballad: “Midnight comes when you least expect it, but springtime will never come again,” the two harmonize. 

They wind up the record with the towering, epic raga-rock title track, rising from Sankaram’s mystical sitar intro to a mighty, guitar-fueled sway. Like the group’s previous release, Cinefonia – rated best debut album of 2014 here – this one will end up on the list of 2018’s best albums at the end of the year

Two Great Psychedelic Bands, One Free Brooklyn Concert Series

Two Saturdays ago, Sadies guitarist Dallas Good thrashed and flailed and spun the headstock of his vintage hollowbody Gretsch, building a howling vortex of sound while his brother Travis stood more or less motionless as he kept a river of jangle and clang running from his Telecaster. In the middle of the stage, bassist Sean Dean held down a steady pulse while drummer Mike Belitsky kept a nimble shuffle beat.

This past Saturday, Songhoy Blues guitarist Aliou Touré did pretty much the same thing, building a screaming Chicago blues-infused solo, his fellow axeman Garba Touré running a loping Malian duskcore pattern off to the side, bassist Oumar Touré playing a serpentine, circular riff over drummer Nathanael Dembélé’s counterintuiitive flourishes.

On one hand, the Canadian and Malian bands couldn’t have less in common. On the other, both are as psychedelic as you could possibly want. And that seems to be the theme at this year’s free outdoor concert series at Union Pool. They’ve been doing free shows in the back courtyard there for the past couple of years, but this year’s series is better than ever.

There are a lot of acts more popular than you’d expect to see in at this comfortable, comparatively small space. This year, that started with the Sadies. The last time they played New York, it was at Webster Hall (if there ever was a New York venue that deserved to be turned into a luxury condo or a Whole Foods, it was that despicable stain on the East Village). The last time this blog was in the house at a Sadies show, it was May of 2014 at Bowery Ballroom and they were playing with the late Gord Downie.

This show didn’t feature any of their brilliantly ominous songs with the late Tragically Hip crooner, but they touched on every style they’ve ever played. Dallas Good broke out his violin for a lickety-split punkgrass romp about midway through the set, and also for the encores. He also delivered some seamlessly expert acoustic flatpicking on a couple of country numbers.

Travis Good seemed to be in charge of the more epic, tectonic solos, particularly during a mini-suite of surf songs, propelled expertly by Belitsky. They went back into the waves a little later with another instrumental that came across as a more bittersweet, southwestern gothic take on the Ventures’ Apache. But it was the brooding, uneasily clanging midtempo anthems that were the high point of the show. Afterward, Dallas Good took care to thank the crowd for coming out – for a free show, no less.

Songhoy Blues are probably the loudest and most eclectic of the Malian duskcore bands to make it to the US so far. They only played a couple of the loping Saharan grooves popularized by first-wave bands like Tinariwen and Etran Finatawa. They opened with a briskly stomping, only slightly Malian-flavored garage rock tune with a searing guitar solo from Garba Touré. Throughout the set, he and the frontman took turns with their solos – a lightning-fast, Blue Oyster Cult-ish run in one of the long, hypnotic numbers midway through was the high point.

After that, they slowed down for a moody minor-key blues ballad that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Otis Rush songbook save for the lyrics. “I know that 99% of you don’t understand a word I’m saying,” Aliou Touré told the crowd: the subtext was that the band’s lyrics are potently political. Then he settled for reminding everybody that music is a universal language. After a couple of numbers that shifted between looming desert rock and frenetically bopping, metrically challenging soukous-flavored rhythms, they closed with a mighty, rising and falling anthem and encored with their lone song in English, Together, a prayer for peace from a part of the world that really needs it.

And a shout-out to the sound guy: this may be an outdoor series, but the sonics in the backyard – a completely uninsulated space with highs potentially bouncing all over the place – were pristine. Few venues sounds as good indoors as at Union Pool outdoors the past couple of Saturdays. That’s a real achievement. The Union Pool free concert series continues this Saturday, July 14 at around 3 with jangly British “power trio” Girl Ray.

A Killer Twinbill in Prospect Park on July 12 – If They Get the Sound Right!

It was fascinating to see some of New York’s most transcendent Indian music talent onstage at Prospect Park Bandshell last year, joined by harpist Brandee Younger and other jazz artists playing austerely enveloping new arrangements of politically-fueled John Coltrane classics.

It was maddening not to be able to hear much of the music, considering how bad the sound was. To make matters worse, these concerts used to be free for everyone, but now the venue is selling the seats closest to the stage. As usual, they were mostly empty, but remained roped off to anyone who didn’t pay the cover charge but might have really wanted to hear what the group were doing. During the set afterward by sax legend Pharaoh Sanders and his quartet, the sound was just as bad, bass and drums jacked to ridiculous extremes. It didn’t take long for word to get around: the sound here sucks!

But it didn’t used to. If the organizers would axe that bozo white kid from out of town who obviously grew up on phat beatzzz and thinks that Eminem is the epitome of sonic excellence – and then replaced him with a competent sound engineer – that would be reason for Brooklyn to celebrate. Because the lineup of free shows at the bandshell this year is really excellent, as enticing as it was last year.

One excellent Brooklyn band on the schedule who really need a good sound mix are the magically swirling Combo Chimbita. If they’re amped properly, as they were while playing to a packed house at Barbes back in April, they’ll build as wildly kaleidoscopic a sound as you’ll hear this year. If they aren’t, their set there at around 8 PM on July 12 will be a muddy mess.

Combo Chimbita are a supergroup of sorts who went through a long dormant period, so it’s good to see them playing out again. Frontwoman Carolina Oliveros keeps busy leading ancient-sounding, hypnotically raucous Afro-Colombian trance-dance ensemble Bulla en el Barrio. Drummer Dilemastronauta also plays psychedelic tropicalia with his own project, Los Sabrosos Cosmicos. The rest of the group includes guitarist Niño Lento – who is neither a kid, nor is he slow – and bassist/keyboardist Prince of Queens,

Their Barbes set was as hypnotic as it was short – under an hour, very brief by this band’s standards. The beats were slinky and constantly shifted, sometimes toward tango, other times toward reggae, and finally a more or less straight-up Colombian cumbia strut about 40 minutes into the set. There was a mixing desk in addition to the keys – whether the extraneous squiggles were coming from there or from the guitar pedal was impossible to tell because the room was so packed. A lot of Spanish was being spoken – it was a smart, young, energized crowd, a welcome change from the rich white kids from out of state who’ve blighted Park Slope so badly in recent years.

Niño Lento flung stinging minor-key guitar chords and chordlets into the mix, sometimes to linger and spiral around, other times to slash through the constantly shifting textural wash. Out in front of the band, swaying and scraping her guacharaca, Oliveros channeled otherworldly menace with her raw, throaty delivery. She has a background singing metal and this project really gives her a chance to go for the jugular. As a bonus, Antibalas will be playing after Combo Chimbita on the 12th in the park: the long-running Afrobeat revivalists are as strong now as during their long residency at the old Knitting Factory in Tribeca 20 years ago.