Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I've moved...

Please follow me over to for plenty more where this came from!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Just one more thing about globalFEST, I promise...

NPR recorded all of the concerts at globalFEST and has them up on the website to stream. There are even still some on the page from last year. And that is why I love NPR.
Listen now!

Monday, January 9, 2012

globalFEST 2012 rocks us into the new year

I have come to the conclusion that globalFEST is my favorite day of the year. It should be a holiday. It's better than a holiday.
In its ninth year, it is a one-night only celebration of all things world music. This year that meant everything from the virtuoso Wang Li giving what is surely the most stunning performance on the jaw harp (that's right) that you've ever seen, to the enormity of the 60 member Silk Road Ensemble exploring contemporary music on instruments from around the world. Each of the 12 sets is a completely singular experience, transporting audiences to a different point on the globe, and there are moments where everything else disappears except what's right before you. That is, until you remember that you only have 20 minutes left to catch the cross-cultural Southern Italian band upstairs.
Because this is my favorite holiday, I did make a point to see all 12 bands. This was easier than it may sound, as the overlapping schedule allows for, and even encourages, migration from one stage to another within the three spaces at Webster Hall.
That being said, the price of admission is well worth it even if you only catch one or two bands. But once the adrenaline and the rhythms and the horns start pumping through those halls, you might not be surprised if you find that you've spent five hours bouncing from one favorite to the next. And the next. And the next.
Here are a few of my favorites, briefly. Check them out for yourselves, and mark your calendars for early January next year so that globalFEST can round out your Holiday season with a bang. Probably on a bongo drum.
First: M.A.K.U. Soundsystem. Because they totally rocked my world.
This 8 person Colombian get-up packed the downstairs studio at Webster Hall with their irresistible dance beats. They had the crowd blissfully grooving to their percussive funk/ reggae sounds, passionately shouting "Sera!" in response to calls for political action and joyfully jumping up and down in unison. This was where the real dancing happened, folks, making this the hardest room to leave as everyone clearly hoped the set would never end.

Equally uplifting and groovable in its own way was the spirited music from Haitian band, Belo. The music is full of heart and soul, as are the men behind the gentle rhythms. Belo ended the set with a chorus of repeated shouts "Do you want me to go?" To which, of course, the crowd yelled back "NO!"
Check out this PBS story and video on the band's story of hope.

Offering some solid competition to all the seductive caribbean percussion was the French band, Zaz.
I preemptively included a video of this lovely lady of song in a previous post below because I couldn't resist. She is testament to the deep appeal of french jazz and blues, playfully pulling at heartstrings and filling even the vastness of the Webster Hall ballroom with her lilting vocals and natural charm.

And then there was Smod.
I say that because these four men from Mali with their African hip-hop songs could charm the pants off anyone. Watching them run in place while singing and playing their instruments was definitely a hight point in the night.

The festival concluded with Debo Band, who have come from Boston via Ethiopia and are taking New York City by storm. They crammed onto the small stage of the studio room in the basement and had every imaginable instrument represented. This was the party spot. The music was loud, with the energy of a big band jam, crossing electric rock lines with horns, saxophones and probably the most beautiful tuba I've ever seen. Seriously. I noticed it being carried around earlier and its old-world, weathered quality caught my eye even then. At a certain point, there was so much adrenaline and so many sounds coming off the stage that I wasn't sure anymore what was even going on.

But at that point, it didn't matter. I had music coursing through my veins and my body was exhausted from all the dancing. It was way better than Christmas.

An initial highlight from GlobalFEST

(more to come...)
One of the 12 bands that ignited Webster Hall last night for the annual GlobalFEST world music celebration was this lovely little lady from France.
Watch this. You will fall in love with her.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Eccentricity of The Barr Brothers, Live at Joe's Pub

Experiencing a live show with the four musicians and countless instruments that make up the band The Barr Brothers is somewhat akin to stepping into a laboratory; it is as if you are witnessing the process and results, the ifs and thens, of some highly creative experimentation with sounds and instruments. We’re talking playing a guitar made out of a tackle-box; drawing a bow across a cymbal as if it were a violin; weaving thread through the strings of a guitar and manipulating the ends to create a haunting, whirring whisper. That kind of thing. And while it is increasingly enjoyable to listen to their recordings and try to tease apart the sounds in your head, it is fascinating to share a room with these incredibly innovative musicians and discover just where all those disparate sounds are coming from and how exactly they are being manufactured.

Preparing the stage for their set at Joe’s Pub on a rainy December night took almost as long as their Opening Act’s set (the very malleable voice of Jocie Adams and her five piece band, whose simple yet richly textured songs share an Americana sensibility with those of The Barr Brothers). And yet as soon as the cacophony of sounds began to emanate from the small corner stage, there was no question that it was well worth the wait.

There is something delightful about the humble ingenuity and eccentricity of The Barr Brothers. And not just the two brothers, Andrew and Brad, but also Sarah Page, who is redefining the harp, and Andres Vial as master of the drums, with his vast bag of tricks and unidentifiable instruments. The four work seamlessly as a team, no single part greater than another and each equally necessary to the composition of the songs. Despite the bold whimsy of their sound, these are musicians with a great sense of control and focus. Clearly, not much is required from them as performers when what they’re doing as musicians is so captivating.

Their set featured a few new songs mixed in with their increasingly popular staples such as “Beggar in the Morning” and “Deacon’s Son”. The songs bleed into one another, some even sound very similar, but the genre-defying use of rotating instruments keeps it all fresh and has an audience wondering what will come next. It could be a loud rock guitar line, could be the harp plucked like a mandolin, could be gentle three part vocal harmony and rambling lyrics, could be cowbells and impressively syncopated hand clapping. Most likely, whatever comes next will change the way the audience defines not only this band but also any given instrument.

Photo credit: Mike McNamara from the band's website.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Getting Swept Away By Leah Siegel

Leah Siegel is plugged in, charged up and going for gold. The sultry lady of song has of late been going through a transitional phase with her music, one which she confesses she would’ve done six years ago if she’d had the money, the time and, well, the balls.

Well now she’s got ‘em. The last thing she seems, in fact, is scared. When she throws back her head, opens her mouth and releases sounds with such abandon and passion, she seems downright indomitable.

The new stage at Rockwood Music Hall was a jungle of twisting cords, plugs and pedals when Leah and her band took over on July 1st. The set was a mix of stirring new songs and reworked Leah Siegel classics, with techno beats, reverberating guitar chords and vocal looping thrown in. The sound was intoxicating, grabbing at heartstrings while also tempting feet to tap and heads to nod all of their own volition. The songs are more complex musically now, with layer upon layer of synthesizers, percussion, guitar lines and vocal echoes by way of a secondary small microphone and a mixing board. They are still dark and melancholy, full of irony and angst, but now there’s an element of groove where once there was mostly rock and blues.

But it is still Leah’s voice that makes your jaw drop and sends shivers down your spine. Her emotional purging is practically contagious, which is what makes her music so irresistible. It’s as if everything else disappears when she opens her mouth and wails. And yet she melts right in to the cacophony around her, building on its energy, its crescendos, its power. Like one organism, the band breathing and moving together, the sounds swelling and rolling off the stage.

Don’t be surprised when it sweeps you up in it, as it inevitably will. You may never be free of Leah Siegel again, and that is a good thing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Secret No More

It was the early show on a Wednesday night at the Mercury Lounge. April Smith and the Great Picture Show were back home after an adventure-filled tour, playing to a room filled past capacity.

This is a band with gigs lined up at SXSW. This is a band with a song that was featured on’s “Song of the Day”. This is a band branded as “One of 30 Bands to Watch” at Lollapalooza by Rolling Stone. With all of these accolades, you may be wondering a few things about these Brooklynites: Where have they been hiding? How have I missed them? And where are they headed?

The band’s stylistic choice of suits, ties and fedoras compliments the swinging nature of their music, a throwback to days when cigarette smoke hovered everywhere and things looked better in black and white. Smith is notorious for flamboyant dresses with short ruffled skirts, but don’t be fooled by her coquettish wardrobe, her pixie cut bangs or her dimples. This little lady is a rockstar and boasts a voice you will not believe.

The band’s music has an alluring balance and use of minor notes, crescendos and staccato rhythms. Likewise, Smith colors her vocals with an occasional cry or slide, and there is a strange Gwen Stefani-like shade to her sound at times, particularly in the haunting ballad, “Dixie Boy” (although I have no doubt that Smith could sing circles around Stefani).

The vibrant complexity of the songs is rounded out by Nick D'Agostino (like a contemporary mobster) on drums, Brandon Lowry on keys and accordion, Stevens on bass (both electric and upright) and Marty O’Kane on lead guitar and mandolin (played with uncanny vigor).

Halfway through the set, Smith declared: “I think it’s time to dance. I think a Charleston is in order.” And it was. Until, that is, Smith unleashed that extraordinary voice with its soaring resonance and effortless power, which instantly stopped you dead in your tracks, sending shivers up your spine.

At the end of the set, I overheard a man comment: She was on fire tonight! Which begged the question in my mind: When is she not? I have a feeling that any time April Smith performs, no matter how many times you’ve seen her, she leaves you thinking the same thing: Damn. Who is this girl and where did she come from?

Photo by Gavin Thomas from a show at the Bowery Ballroom