It was about as hard to predict as the baby boom after the war was: the song boom, the fruits of studios blooming madly in the spring of quarantine. Practically every musician these days has a home studio, and many considerably more than that. Distance collaboration has been a part of the recording process for decades, so there were no new ropes to learn there. As for distribution, wait, what does that word mean again? The magic dust to make it all really spring to life was — of course and as ever — time. Free time. We have it.
And here it is, a roundup of new singles by Hudson Valley artists. It took me 1500 words to barely scratch the surface, so keep an eye out for future installments.
Grounds for inclusion in this round were, quite honestly, arbitrary. It is literally all good, and there is plenty more where this came from. Many of these songs can be found on all the streaming platforms and Bandcamp as well.
And as always, if you dig it, please support it. The economy of recorded music was already a disaster. Wouldn’t it be a delicious silver lining if quarantine restored some sense of sanity and fairness to the way we consume recorded music and the remuneration of the makers? One can dream.
“If You Could Hear Me Now,” The Mammals
The luminous, elegiac “If You Could Hear Me Now” is one of three singles released in advance of the Mammals upcoming full-length Nonet, which will be out by the time you are reading this. This five-minute modern-traditional lament finds Ruth Ungar updating someone in the beyond about all the tragic things that have gone down in a world despoiled by greed. Understated and rich, she builds the story over a dry snare brush groove and a gradually filling roots ambiance. The Mammals show once again why they are such masters and innovators in the Americana idiom. From the biblical parallelism of its lyrics (all verses, no choruses, and all in one repeated grammatical structure) to its strictly disciplined, accretive approach to musical development (hell, you don’t even hear Mike’s trademark low harmonies until about 3:25), this song is audaciously patient in its blossoming. But it is immersive and simply gorgeous from go. Besides, you have the time for this kind of thing right now.
“Seething Blue,” Pig Iron
The advance single and title track from Pig Iron’s upcoming full-length, “Seething Blue” is a quirky, stomping minor-key rag, a dry, rustic character study of rage laced with bluesy acoustic slide guitar. Both the wrenching, fuzzed out electric guitar solo and the prevailing tone of old-world menace and oddball imagery speak to the guiding spirit of Tom Waits. Pig Iron is the new roots rock project of the veteran Newburgh-area songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and audio engineer Todd Giudice, a real student of the classics and a guy who knows how to stay out of the way of a strong, simple tune and a good band.
“Welcome to World Now,” Stephen Clair
The typically edgy and literate Beacon area songwriter and electric guitarist responds to the pandemic with this stripped down, solo and casually recorded tune about what is happening exactly right now. Evoking the WPA-era newsy folk tradition (he even addresses you as “pal”), “Welcome to the World Now” is stylized but not over the top. Just right. The song paints such a self-evidently accurate picture of current conditions in the world and in our heads, it is easy to miss the crafty nuance of its lines and rhymes and the hipper dimensions of its social critique, all disguised as a kind of Woody Guthrie throwaway, pal.
“Rain,” Chris Pellnat
Lead guitarist for the stormy, Brit-inclined progressive folk rock band The Warp/The Weft, Chris Pellnat pursues his own path through musical time and space in his jangly, psychedelic bedroom baroque pop. The title track of his most recent ten-song release, “Rain” is an especially nice specimen, a pretty, Sixties-flavored psyche-pop gem that channels the Byrds in the choruses and the Zombies in the verses, all while maintaining its DIY groundings — unvarnished and uncorrected, but simultaneously extravagant in its arrangement and sonics. Love this.
“Peace Within,” Spaghetti Eastern Music
As the project name implies, guitarist and composer Sal Cataldi’s work as Spaghetti Eastern tends both toward exotic melodic and rhythmic source material as well as to a wry pop culture referentiality — to the iconic cinematic music of Morricone and other touchstones of cool. Cataldi calls “Peace Within,” a “sonic tonic for troubled times,” but he should have added: “by New York standards.” There is plenty of disturbance and drama in this (mostly) serene ambient piece, and it is shot through with Cataldi’s twisting, infinite-sustain lead guitar playing in a mode that reminds of the great Norwegian experimental jazz player Terje Rypdal.
Listen on Bandcamp.
“Little Rabbit,” Rosine
The long-running chamber folk solo project of Life in Blender bassist Mark Lerner, Rosine’s late-2017 full-length L was a cornucopia of delightful curiosities and surprises — classicist folk tunes alternating with globally-sourced baroque instrumentals, challenging modernist conceptual pieces and exactly one rock hit. Place Lerner’s arrangement (and dub remix) of the traditional “Little Rabbit” somewhere in the middle of all of that. It’s one thing for about 30 seconds as a banjo states the melody over a fairly standard bed of modern roots ambiance. Then when the banjo hands the theme off to a fretless bass mewling over a mesh of pawing woody, xylophone or kalimba or something, all bets are off. But it never loses its sweetness or its contrapuntal artistry.
“Fire & Ice,” Sylvia Bullett
Now this one made me giggle with delight. The veteran Woodstock performer effectively sets Robert Frost’s famous short poem Fire and Ice to a legit old-school wah-wah-powered minimalist funk and soul tune with foreboding sirens that sound like they might have been sampled from Fear of a Black Planet. If you are wondering why the groove sounds so fat and authentic, consider the all-star band that cut it: Fred Smith (Television, etc.), Dan Hickey (They Might Be Giants, etc.) and Adam Widoff (Lenny Kravitz, etc.) Speaking of sampling, the great Yankee poet himself makes a cameo, reciting the poem with its tricky little rhyme scheme. The track dwells on one unchanging groove and chord, developing about as glacially as something from Mile Davis’s On the Corner, but its tension, gravity, and discomfiting end-times vibe never falter.
Listen on Spotify.
“Million Strings,” LSDaniel
As “Million String” fades into being on clouds of swelling ambiance and electric jangle, you look at the artist’s handle, and you think you are in for one kind of thing — a serene, sound-as-substance psychedelic ride exploring the periodic waves of colors and frequencies. Not so much. As soon as the vocals enter, what you get is a genuinely pretty, soft rock tune about lovers’ spats and their confounding aftermaths. It’s a minimalist, moody, emotionally coherent take on Seventies singer-songwriter pop rock, with a 21st-century indie approach to sound painting. Lovely DIY work by Dan Shapiro, curator of the Kingston Castle series of rustic shed concerts.
“Quarantined,” June Cleaver and the Steak Knives
The studio project of the busy Hudson valley drummer and producer Christopher Bradley, June Cleaver and the Steak Knives’ typical product is dense with production action and imagination — real studio pieces that would challenge the resources of even a big budget live show. “Quarantined” finds Bradley keeping it (relatively) simple and off the cuff. It’s a well-produced, smart and edgy reggae-inflected jam about the paradoxes of Covid quarantine, how it just cements an intimate dependency on technology that was already all but complete, and other deep things to think about at home. Bradley delivers his koans in a likable New Romantic baritone, and of course the drumming is simply badass. Impressive work on every level.
“Brash Bandages,” Walking Bombs
2:44 of pure runaway dystopian joyride from Hudson Valley music scene stalwart and critic Morgan Y. Evans, this time working with Sean Paul Pillsworth, the excellent bassist and second vocalist from Nightmares for a Week, and Taraka Larson from Prince Rama. Evans’ lyrical concerns are consistent with the title of his project, and those across his career — troubled self and troubled world, inner and external, everyone on the verge of collapse or combustion, but there is always hope and always work to be done. The trip, of course, is what a downright virtuosic hard rock singer Morgan is.