Danielle and the State Street Band. Life Is Like a Song (SubCat).
The State Street Band was playing out one wintry night in 2006 at the
now defunct Fat Freddy’s blues haven in Mattydale. The club’s owner,
“Fat” Freddy Aboud, boasted aloud during the applause between the sets
that “You’ll never read about bands like this in the The New Times,
with their 20-year-old music editors!” Aboud was unaware who was in ’da
house that night: me. He later chuckled over a beer about inadvertently
razzing the music editor who had indeed come to see what the hoopla was
all about. Tragically, the Syracuse music scene later lost one of its
more endearing figures when Aboud passed away in June 2007.
Aboud, a strong advocate of the groups who frequented his
joint, harbored a musical community that was in some ways like a family
for blues masters such as Roosevelt Dean and local legends including
Mark Hoffmann. So it should come as no surprise that one of Aboud’s
star acts would dedicate its first album to him. The liner notes for Life Is a Song
also pay homage to “all those musicians we lost too early who will
forever remain in our hearts,” notably Tim Cook, brother to Dave Cook
and former member of BeBe Bop, and Gary Zamory, one of the area’s most
regarded guitarists of the 1970s.
Danielle and the State Street Band:
Chuck Sgroi and Danielle Rausa, who performed at last year’s Syracuse
Jazz Fest, have released a new recording. Michael Davis photo.
The disc immortalizes the lounge sound of Fat Freddy’s
scene through 11 jazz, blues and rock standards, each featuring the
boutique guitar work of John Latocha, the pocket-centric bass lines of
Chuck Sgroi and the balanced, subtly dynamic drum work of Tommy
Rozzano. Although the lineup has shifted during the past year, the
group has since picked up Danielle Rausa on vocals. Her musicianship on
the CD lives up to the best-kept-secret-in-Syracuse caliber that is
central to State Street’s capabilities.
Funky, danceable jazz riffs highlight the disc’s opener,
a groovy rendition of the George Gershwin classic “Summertime.” Joyful
walking bass lines then dramatically ascend and descend through “Almost
Like Being In Love,” which also features a playful take on the tune’s
melody as performed by Rausa; Latocha later launches into a solo during
the track akin to the style of Les Paul. Melancholy feelings wistfully
weave through the delicate arpeggios of Latocha’s take on “Here’s That
Rainy Day,” while Rozzano adds just the right amount of delicate
percussion to keep the track’s pace from falling behind.
The disc concludes with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,”
dedicated to Aboud; rather than a funeral dirge, however, expect an
up-tempo, high-energy version of the standard, largely due to the
recording’s more explosive drum hits. True to the jumpin’ juke joint
spirit that drew musicians to Aboud’s warmly remembered venue, those
with fond memories of the Syracuse music scene will be brought home by
State Street’s top-quality recording.
Undergang. Deep In A Hole (Moletrax Studios). Alan Smead, front man for local hard rockers Undergang, definitely errs on the side of the nearly insane. Deep In a Hole
features macabre lyrics that fall into meter like the work of e.e.
cummings amid rock licks of the highest order. Imagine Jack Nicholson
forming a hardcore band from the gaggle of interns in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and you get the picture.
Dissonance and darkness are among the
album’s recurring motifs, especially evident in tracks like “Against,”
which opens with the kind of ear-tweaking discord that makes rock
culture what it is. The band’s creative guitar work immediately whisks
listeners away from solid ground in the overdriven harmonics that pull
listeners into the disc’s lead-off track, “Laffachoo.” The disjointed
lyrics teeter through a depiction of what it’s like to be made fun of
for being unconventional, pivoting on points of observation in a
metrical style that calls to mind Forest Gump trying on his leg braces.
“Make no mistake/ they’re laughing at you/ what they do – they
laffachoo!” Mead banters.
Creepy vibes from guest violinist Kayleigh Goldsworthy
open “Silt Hits the Land,” a bizarre tale that seems to describe the
way in which a serial killer buries the dead. That theme is
recapitulated on the album’s back cover, which features a mock logo for
the “Gravediggers Union: Local 13.” Perhaps slightly out of character
for Undergang, “Crowmagnumb” drives along a punk-influenced path, and
employs the screeching guitar work of Nathan Angell and Cole Edwards to
the recording’s behest. Fellow band mates Illin on drums and John
Thomas on bass make for a well-rounded rock sound, for which Undergang
should be applauded in shaping on their newest release.
DeCoy. Exchange Rate (Red Brick). Italian
rapper DeCoy, better known as Nick Case in his hometown of
Baldwinsville, has been hard at work throughout the past year in an
attempt to spread his locally minded hip-hop around the area. Since
DeCoy was offered the opportunity to be a part of a documentary titled Pizza, Pasta, Mafia and Hip-Hop, however, the rapper has gone international by traveling to the shoot in Torino, Italy. According to a recent e-mail sent to The New Times,
Case wrote, “All in all it is a trip that will change me as a person,
not just an artist. The traditions, food, architecture, people and
attitudes are so refreshing compared to New York.”
DeCoy has left behind Exchange Rate, a 12-track
(plus two bonus tracks) LP that bounces between biographical narrative,
critique of the Syracuse music scene and a smattering of
party-influenced imagery. “Can’t Miss You Anymore” addresses the narrator’s sensitive feelings regarding the loss of his father at a young
age: “Memories worth more to me than I can see/ shaped my history, joy
and misery with me/ every step of the day, my flaws, my ‘oohs’ and
‘aahs,’ where I been and what I saw/ You’re what I call an eternal
angel, so darn graceful, never hateful.” On the other hand, the disc
opener features a fake news story—reported by WSTM-Channel 3’s Lisa
Spitz!—with DeCoy being pursued by the cops. DeCoy follows the ruse
with “One City,” calling for unity in the local music scene.
“Dance For Cash” opens with a gentle timpani roll that
progresses into a catchy, hip-shaking groove; it’s more in line with
modern commercial hip-hop, drawing on the club scene inside of a strip
club as a setting for a trite romance with a dancer. While DeCoy’s
breakbeats come across as somewhat dated (he references Benny Mardones’
“Into the Night” during a same-titled tune), the bonus track
“Freestyle” features a grittier style that adds to the CD’s musicality.
Given that DeCoy has employed live musicians in recordings in the past,
perhaps the album’s tracks will grow wings in a live setting.
Jimmy Wolf. Deep Downtown (Red Reverend).
Most people assume the blues are only about rocking and whining in a
broken chair on a country porch or singing through a spilt bottle of
whiskey face-down at the end of the bar. But there is a grittier side
of the blues that only comes out after the sun goes down. These are the
dusk-to-dawn blues that Wolf, Turtle Clan Mohawk and resident badass of
the local blues scene, is hip to.
During the CD’s title track, Wolf proclaims to all those
still awake to “shine a little light when the stars go out. . .
everybody jump and shout,” as bassist James Cloyd lays down an uptempo
boomerang groove similar to Pink Floyd’s pre-Dark Side cut, “One
of These Days.” But that’s where the similarity stops. Instead of
flying off into progressive space rock, Wolf’s soaks his lead guitar
riffs in a liter of distorted fuzz that hits like a just-finished
100-proof bourbon bottle being smashed by Keith Richards.
And that’s just the first song. Throughout the remaining
10 tracks, the trio, rounded out by drummer Lafrae Sci, keep a frantic
boom-boom-boom boogie-woogie pace that will make you sweat by just
sitting still listening to it. On “The Groover,” all three instruments
jam on a funky, tight, unison riff, while Wolf continues his role as
lyrical host, professing and singing, “Let’s have a good time, let’s
find a big old bottle of wine, drink it on down and get on the groover.”
The blues are about feelings and feelings come naturally,
and through the soul is the only key to the blues. Wolf plays the
guitar as an extension from the heart, which is sadly lacking in many a
modern band. But Wolf steers clear of that area and just plays what
comes naturally, as evidenced on another standout, “Full Stack Attack,”
a no-bullshit instrumental reminiscent of the Jeff Beck Blow by Blow
era that features a scarily heavy solo that might make the sun afraid
to come out. But it will rise eventually, and after a night of
listening to this CD, you might not see the morning the same way as you
did before you turned out the light. . . and that’s a good thing.