The very first time I heard their lead singer’s raspy, nasal, serrated vocals, I knew I was going to like Deer Tick, a band I first heard on a podcast of their gig at Newport Folk Fest last month. I may have mentioned the band in passing in an earlier instalment of Download Central but I hadn’t explored them enough then. Lead singer John McCauley III’s nasal snarl belies his age. He is 23. And a friend who dropped in while I was playing some Deer Tick said he sounds like a baby Dylan.
Come to think of it, there is something vaguely Dylanesque about Deer Tick’s vocalist and it has nothing to do with the fact that their music is classified as ‘folk’. More on that somewhat misplaced classification of their sound later but the similarity between McCauley’s vocals and Dylan’s is that both of them have a nasal quality to their voices—period. Beyond that there is little in common between them. In fact, every time I listen to Jakob Dylan—whether with his band The Wallflowers or solo as he had performed at last year’s Newport Folk Fest—I seem to find more influences in his music of his father than I find in any other artist.
Back to Deer Tick. This music of this young band—all four members of this band from Rhode Island are in their early twenties—is classified as alternative folk but I’d liken it more to indie rock. Make that indie rock with a strong infusion of the classic rock sound. Deer Tick’s music has so much of the classic rock sound that at times you wonder whether these guys are really so young. The thing is they are, and just two records down—War Elephant came out in 2007 (when McCauley was 21!) and Born On Flag Day came out earlier this year—they have already a cult following of loyal fans, Tickheads. If you listen to their performance at Newport Folk this year, the lively audience-band rapport is very evident. That, and the fact that their albums are very well produced (by an indie label called Partisan Records) lead me to believe this is a band that could be well worth watching.
Soon after I heard their performance at Newport, I went and bought online a copy of Deer Tick’s Born On Flag Day. It was a good buy: nice grungy feel to music that may have its roots in folk but will definitely appeal to indie rock lovers.
I’m no great fan of the genre loosely called ‘fusion’ or, sometimes, simply, ‘world music’. Partly because music made by merely blending different genres doesn’t always appeal to me. Neither does the cursory use of the tabla or a couple of sitars. So when I heard of a band called Lal Meri, named after a Sufi song, the only reason I gave them a listen was because of their name. It was a pleasant surprise. Lal Meri not only blend east Indian music along with jazz and trip-hop but they also make the end result sound perfect and not contrived as many fusionists end up doing.
What perhaps makes the difference for them is their lead singer (or at least one of their lead singers). Nancy Kaye is an accomplished pop and jazz musician who also sings under an alias, Rosey. Her voice is rich and sweet, yet edgy like an evolved dessert! The other musicians on the band are Carmen Rizzo (a writer and re-mixer who’s worked with the likes of Coldplay, Seal and Paul Oakenfield) and Ireesh Lal (a multi-instrumentalist with jazz, trip-hop and reggae influences). While part of Lal Meri’s repertoire features songs with lyrics in English, they also induct Pooja Lal, an Indian Sufi singer and Ireesh’s cousin, to do songs in Urdu and Hindi. After listening to a live performance on Morning Becomes Eclectic, a programme on US radio station, KCRW, I went and bought Lal Meri’s eponymous debut album online. Given Rozzi and Lal’s skills at producing and mixing, technically the album is near-perfect, not a note out of place. It’s a pleasant listen too if you keep an open mind about what are essentially pop songs with ‘fusion’ music and don’t mind a bit of bilingual interplay in terms of lyrics.
Listen to ‘virtual’ tracks: