So it’s a pattern that’s been seen innumerable times throughout history- a woman and her guitar. But Rachel Zamstein’s pop-rock gems are not to be overlooked, a fact proved by her recent bookings along the east coast and as far away as Stockholm. Her debut album, “Bouquet” features her melodies backed by a full band in true rock ‘n roll fashion, with jazz infusion in her soulful vocals, a demonstration of her influence from her grandfather, a professional jazz musician. See Rachel at Rockwood Music Hall on January 10. - KB
I'm spending this Holiday season listening to the 350+ local artists who submitted to be considered for our Year End Best of NYC poll. I won't have any power in the final selection of the nominees (I delegated it to the out of town Deli editors to avoid conflicts, as I know many of the bands in the list), but I thought I'd give some exposure to some of the artists I wasn't aware of that I found interesting. Here we go!
Happy 2010! - Paolo De Gregorio
In the age when the hipster reigns, storming the streets in search of all things “vintage,” it is truly earth-shattering to come across anything new. Which is why Gangstagrass is such a shock to the system. Self-proclaimed “lightning on the strings, thunder on the mic,” T.O.N.E.Z. isn’t a gangsta who loves his herb, but one who spits rhymes about diamonds, the hood, and shorties in the club, while classic bluegrass fiddle and banjo carry the “beat.” What’s more surprising than a sound influenced equally by Tupac and Allison Krauss is the fact that it is aurally pleasurable. After their single “Long Hard Times to Come” was chosen as the theme songs for FX’s acclaimed TV show “Justified,” the group was nominated for an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music. - Katherine Bennett
My Cousin, The Emperor may just be the band to make you reconsider your long-standing dismissal of country music. Winner of WNYC’s Battle of the Boroughs Brooklyn Throwdown, they’ve been converting rock ‘n rollers by filtering their classic country sounds through low-fi nuances, such as heavy guitar reverberation and lower-quality recording techniques to add the ‘alt’ to their ‘alt-country’ categorization. “Long Way From Home” won the Independent Music Award for best alt-country song, and features finger-pluckin’ quick enough to challenge any Appalachian band, and in “Montevideo,” lead singer/ songwriter Jason Reischel laments about lost love to the accompaniment of country music fundamentals pedal-steel guitar and banjo. - Katherine Bennet
Somewhat reminiscent of an acoustic, lo-fi version of The New Pornographers, Like, Mountains employ their indie-pop sensibility through an amalgamation of techniques, layering seemingly simple and catchy melodies with untraditional sounds. In “Call Me A Liar,” chimes punctuate the concerns of a 20-something (“What are you doing/ With your life?”), in the title track off the band’s latest EP, “If We Break Up Right Now,” accordion plays in chorus with male and female vocals musing about the material side of a relationship, and in “Mexico,” French horn and trumpet harmonies accompany tales of west-coast kids’ escape to the country that’s the “closest “furthest” place from what they know.” The band’s currently planning an early 2011 tour with Brooklyn neighbors Field Mouse, and hard at work on a full-length release. - Katherine Bennet
Prominent in the city’s anti-folk scene, Cheese on Bread’s songs sound raw and unfinished. This is probably due to the fact that the duo recorded their album in their bathroom - initially because of purely economic reasons, later from habit. But because of their low-tech recordings, the songs sound more authentic, like if they were recorded by a couple of friends, and thanks to this the people and places in their stories sound more familiar and real. They’re silly and undeniably charming in a Kimya Dawson way, their songs bearing the same honesty and emotion as high school lovebirds. - Katherine Bennet
With an impressive list of recording credits, including indie rock legends TV on the Radio, Regina Spektor, and Pete Yorn, Eric Biondo still has time to front his own modern big-band, wittily named “Beyondo”. Biondo adds trumpet and a falsetto akin to fellow Brooklynite Justin Rice (Bishop Allen), to reggae-inspired down-tempo tracks. Following the pattern of many of his songs, “Gambler” is calypso jazz, structured around quick African drumming, a full acoustic back-up band, maracas, and funky organ chords. In traditional jazz style, his songs are built off improvisation, and have energetic, spontaneous, and definitely danceable attributes. - Katherine Bennett
Telltale play with the same macabre overtones as goth-wave god Robert Smith (their lead singer even looking a little like him, with wiry black hair and sunken eyes, entirely black ensemble) use as much feedback as noise-pop pioneers The Jesus and Mary Chain, and drown in distortion along with My Bloody Valentine, quavering vocals secondary to the calculated chaos of the guitar. Atonal walls of sound employ reverberation to create shimmering ripples of guitar echo, layering noise upon noise until the sound becomes a tangible presence, shaking your skin and quickening your heartbeat. - Katherine Bennett
After quitting a woodwork apprenticeship in Nevada three years ago, Amber Rubarth picked up the guitar for the first time and started writing songs, and gaining a steady fanbase, ever since. Her soulful, thick, unique alto reflects the blues influence of idol Tom Waits, and her songs tell stories in traditional folk fashion; in “Washing Day,” winner of the 2010 New Song Mountain Stage Contest, she sings of lost love, “too much whiskey, too much smoke/ Last night’s tears hang on my coat.” She will be recording a new release with Grammy Award-winning producer Jaquire King (Tom Waits, Kings of Leon, Norah Jones). Check out the top 2 top songs on the Myspace list.
Camp is back. 2 weeks ago I saw Adam Shenk light up the bored, mid-week, after-hours crowd at The Bitter End. A silky crooner best described as a broadway-modeled singer-songwriter for whom no time has passed since the '90s, Adam Shenk is a singular man somehow possessing the courage to perform (and grind successfully to) Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas".
Complete with suit and skinny tie, Adam Shenk would have looked at home sipping cosmos on a yacht with Peter Cetera and Kenny Loggins. There are a million reasons I could use to try and convince you that this shouldn't work, but with Adam Shenk it most definitely does.
Brooklyn is full of musicians convincing audiences of the newly found fun of forgotten pop music trends. While this spirit certainly animates the anachronistic R&B and neo-soul sound of songs Suitcases and Taste, the sincerity of Adam's incredibly enthusiastic delivery will make you think he came up with these styles himself...and through his own unique reinventions, he has. Check him out live when he plays The Bitter End again January 18 at 8:30pm. - Mike Levine