Aram Bajakian plays lead guitar in Lou Reed’s band (here’s a clip of him playing Waves of Fear – it’s hard to imagine a better showcase for his chops). Bajakian’s own project Kef has just put out a fascinatingly eclectic, completely original, often hauntingly beautiful album of guitar/violin/bass instrumentals, many of which imaginatively reinvent traditional Armenian melodies. There’s a raw, spontaneous feel here – for the most part, Bajakian doesn’t go for extensive multi-tracking. The album makes a good segue with cutting-edge Balkan and Middle Eastern-flavored bands like Ansambl Mastika or A Hawk and a Hacksaw. Here Bajakian joins forces with Tom Swafford on violin and Shanir Blumenkranz on bass.
They open with a warmly fingerpicked acoustic vignette and then launch into some pyrotechnics: over a circular bass motif, Bajakian’s Neil Young-ish psychedelic sunspots give way to gritty no wave funk and some understatedly searing tremolo-picking. It’s the high point of the album, volume-wise. Laz Bar is a gypsy dance on the waves of the Mediterranean until the guitar gets funkier and bites down hard with a Ribot-ish blues solo as the violin swirls in and envelopes everything. The felicitously titled Sumlinian (Hubert Sumlin being one of the godfathers of funk) again works a circular melody, first carried by pizzicato violin before being turned over to the bass, guitar and then violin slashing their way through a Chicago southside of the mind.
Wroclaw, a Balkan-flavored rock tune comes together stately and wary out of a tricky intro, and eventually they swing it with a nice, matter-of-factly crescendoing violin solo, Bajakian following with some sweet Balkan blues – it’s the best song on the album. An upbeat Greek-flavored dance gets followed by a more pensive one, Swafford wailing over a brooding minor-key progression, Bajakian adding some teeth-gnashing yet terse Jeff Beck-style fills. From there they segue to some variations on the theme that eventually go absolutely haywire, back into a chorus that they hammer again and again, 80s no wave style. The album closes with a pensive, flamenco-tinted acoustic taqsim, a bass-and-guitar duet that sounds like a jam that worked out well enough to throw on the album, a wonderfully minimalist, mournful dirge and an equally captivating psychedelic piece that contrasts watery and spiky textures for a creepy vibe similar to the darkest stuff on Country Joe & the Fish’s first album. It’s out today on Tzadik.
Brothers and sisters, are you ready? I said ARE YOU READY? For the NEW gospel sound of the Lost Crusaders. This is the real deal, ecstatic, often exhilarating. It will redeem your soul whether you are a believer or you just like to dance. Fans of Rev. Vince Anderson will love this album. Some of the songs here blend 60s soul stylings with gospel, others are sort of gospel punk, with a handful of straight-ahead garage rock tunes. This is an incredible party record, something akin to what JSBX (or Blues Explosion, or whatever they’re calling themselves now) is to classic 60s garage rock. In case you might be suspicious, it’s not camp. It’s just a bunch of NYC garage rock types who love vintage 60s gospel and prove they can play it as well as any church group out there. Frontman Michael Chandler holds nothing back, his hoarse, gravelly vocals impassioned and inspired. As with all good gospel bands, this album has a very propulsive rhythm section, Brian McBride on bass and Joey Valentine on drums. Don’t let the religious nature of the lyrics scare you off: this is a celebration of the spirit in all of us, atheists and Christians alike. You can dance to this. The production, by Dean Rispler at Dead Verse Studios in Union City, NJ is impressively authentic, sounding almost like a vinyl record.
The album opens with the title track, a fast major key vamp that gleefully welcomes the apocalypse, with cool solos from Johnny Vignault’s guitar and ex-Fleshtone Steve Greenfield’s baritone sax. The next cut I Don’t Ask Why is even faster, call-and-response with the women in the choir, crunchy guitars spiced with Jerome Jackson’s tasty Hammond organ in the background and a nice solo out. I Wonder What Ever Happened has a killer 2-guitar intro, evoking Country Joe & the Fish in a particularly woozy moment at the end of their good period, 1970ish with a good long harp solo after the second chorus reminiscent of the late, great Knoxville Girls. The following cut, There Used to Be a River is an environmental cautionary tale – “it couldn’t outrun the hand of man” – garage gospel built on a descending progression on the bass. With a long, killer reverb guitar solo from the Fleshtones’ Keith Streng and Chandler’s ominous croak, it could be something from the recently reunited Electric Prunes.
After that, Wasted on the Wind is a Knoxville Girls or Gun Club soundalike with a great baritone guitar solo. Planted by the Water is a fast gospel vamp, piano and organ plus crunchy guitar and a fiery chromatic harp solo. Laura Cantrell’s sweet, soaring vocals channel Kitty Wells on the beautiful, slow Too Late, Matt Verta Ray’s lapsteel coming in and out like a string section.
Other standout cuts on the album include Whose Name Will I Call, with a Stagger Lee boogie kind of feel, and the fast, joyous Where Did It Go whose protagonist trades in his booze and drugs for the holy spirit, rejoicing in having found a new way to get high. Wow. What a great album. Five bagels. With a glass of communion wine. CDs are available at shows, online and in Europe on Everlasting Records.