Vendetta Rose vocalist-keyboardist Alec Demello, 16, has one of the best voices I’ve heard in a while, like Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes or a young Rod Stewart, but with a greater range and better phrasing. At times, his voice seems almost out of place in the young progressive hard rock band, better suited for a Stonesy roots-rock outfit, but since he writes a good chunk of the songs, I guess this is Demello’s style. And it’s very emotional at that, chronicling a heart and mind of darkness.
The tornado-like “Silent Letter” about a suicide note yet to be written opens the emotional storm of Vendetta Rose’s four-song debut EP, Tilted Directions, and is the Makin Waves Song of the Week at AsburyMusic.com, Spotify and now YouTube. I love the whirlwind drum opening by John Matlosz and rippin’ guitar solos by Nick Marrotta and Ryan Graci, who surf those rhythms nicely.
Those young cats are joined by bassist Kyle Crowley, a student of John DeServio from Black Label Society and Cycle of Pain, so like the rest of the band, his chops are killer. I look forward to seeing how Vendetta Rose’s songwriting skills catch up to their playing. Sometimes all the emotion gets a bit melodramatic and lyrically clichéd. But their musical mix belies their age and is a mighty cross between the emotional intensity of Tool, grit of early Aerosmith, panache of Rush, especially the Neil Peart-like drums, and fury of Guns N’ Roses, particularly the interplay of guitars and vocals.
Demello also offers pretty piano parts on “Blend,” a power ballad about a lonely outsider filled with dread because he would rather be different than blend in. If it was the 1970s, lighters would be raised up in salute of this arena-rock anthem. Maybe kids today will light up their cell phones when Vendetta Rose play May 3 at The Brighton Bar with Wasting Moonlight.
There they’ll also hear the Guns N’ Roses-like “Over and Under,” a battle against an addicted abuser, and the EP’s closer “Human Glass,” which features particularly fine phrasing by Demello that weaves in and out of tasty guitar and piano solos. In a summation of the themes of the EP, that tune is about winning and losing in life and the price you pay to play.
The New Black were emerging as a national act from Middlesex County when a 2009 car accident left guitarist Gabriel Hurley blind. But you never would know that from his playing on the triumphant new album, Coming Home, the closing title track of which is a gorgeous acoustic guitar duet between Hurley and Daniel Downing within an otherwise painful look at the depression and loneliness left by a dearly departed loved one.
Throughout Coming Home, The New Black remind me of the melodic, harmonic, emotional mix of hard rock and progressive rock that both Incubus and LINKIN PARK made minus, their scratching and rapping. This particularly is the case with the opening “Never,” the “beautiful catastrophe” of “Permanent Ink” and “This Divide.”
Stand out tracks include the single and Makin Waves Song of the Week “Change the World,” a socially conscious anthem about rising above fear and hate to change the world through the strength and unity of community by opening hearts, souls, eyes and minds to truth one person at a time. I also really love the grungy self-deprecation of “Figure It Out,” especially the chorus: “I know I know I know there must be something wrong with you because you’re in love with me.
And I know I know I know you’re gonna figure it out.”
The grunge ‘n’ groove of “Scream at the Sun” recalls both Soundgarden and Faith Mo More in a tune about a troubled suicide survivor still teetering on the edge of a life expressed in the futility of the title. Balancing that emotion is the funky club crawl 4 AM,” which is a hoot, especially the line, “I always seem to find my way back home even though last night I took too many shots of Petron.” I also love this track’s keyboard nuances that sound like vibes.
The 11-song collection also includes “Better Days,” a slow-burning scorcher that deals with the pain of catastrophe; “Inside the Fire,” a fiery, fuzzy, buzzing beat down on the passions that make any relationship complex, and “Our Lives,” a pretty keyboard-driven power ballad about the charades and other games that lovers play.
You can hear Coming Home live, along with songs from two EPs released since 2008, when The New Black perform May 11 at The Bitter End, New York City; May 18, Jersey Shore Music Festival, Seaside Heights; May 25, Crossroads, Garwood, and June 8, The Stone Pony, Asbury Park.
Pyrenesia do for the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grappelli and Eastern European music, particularly klezmer, what New Orleans’ Tuba Skinny do for trad jazz and the Carolina Chocolate Drops do for old-time hillbilly music: lovingly and distinctly bring an older style of music to a young audience. Playing a fascinating, mixed-metered mix of mountain music from the Pyrenees to the Carpathians to the Appalachians, Pyrenesia (pronounce peer-uh-nee-juh) make an impressive debut with their 12-song Off-Beat Symphony. The collection features eight originals, five of which are awesome instrumentals, as well as four covers.
The opening “Defiance,” one of three instrumentals composed by accordionist Tony Kovatch, is a fusion of Eastern and Western European rhythms that make for a delightful global groove and old-world romp. The similar “Gadjo Carousel” is a playful tune that sounds as if it was this much fun to make as it is to listen to in a blend of klezmer and gypsy jazz that features great individual solos by Kovatch, guitarist Alan Rigoletto, and violinist Daniella Fischetti, the instrumental’s composer, as well as a treble solo in which they each play their own leads together. Meanwhile, bassist Patrick Knapp lays down a strong foundation for them to do so. A gadjo is a non-Romani person, so the carousel must the song’s swirl of gypsy and klezmer styles with a cascading rhythm that’s a fun ride.
Next up is the Makin Waves Song of the Week, Rigoletto’s lyrical tune, “It’s Not Sin,” a funny look at spirituality from the perspective of a rambler. I especially love the chorus: “It’s not sin. It’s wine. Sippin’ on guilt on a Saturday morning, soaking in the divine.” Rigoletto’s bologna voice matches the road-weary tale and is augmented by the sweetly solid harmonies of the rest of the band. You can check out the Makin Waves Song of The Week four times daily all week at AsburyMusic.com.
Fischetti’s countryesque take on gypsy jazz and klezmer borrows from the old American west and the old-time tunes of the Appalachians. Another Rigoletto vocal then covers the 1930 Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields classic “Exactly Like You,” about a “rug cutter” and his swing-out sister. Originally featured in a 1930 Broadway musical, Lew Leslie’s International Revue, which also featured the songwriting team’s better-known “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Exactly Like You” has been recorded by dozens of folks, including Reinhardt, as well as Louis Armstrong. Pyrenesia’s version is a cross between the two.
Fischetti makes her fiddle cry on Kovatch’s “Reconstellation Waltz,” which also features some fine pickin’ by Rigoletto, while the accordionist’s klezmer-flavored “Piro Harmonika” may be the best example of how these exceptional musicians play off of and feed into each other. Rigoletto’s inconsistent vocals mar the title track, which explains the band’s unusual approach to music, as well as perhaps life. His voice also made me wince on the otherwise gorgeous gypsy-jazz arrangement of Johnny Mercer’s “Autumn Leaves.” But then Pyrenesia do what they do best – swing, jam and groove – on a medley of two traditional Russian tunes, “Petyorshka” and “Dark Eyes.” Fischetti’s all-too-brief plucking at the end is amazingly awesome.
Then there is Rigoletto’s inspired “Oh My,” which recalls a time when you actually had to dance to music that actually had to played and extremely well. One of the best performances closes Off-Beat Symphony with a stunning rendition of Italian composer Monti’s “Czardas,” a tribute to Hungarian folk dance. Pyrenesia eloquently and elegantly execute four distinct parts. A heartbreakingly beautiful intro led by Fischetti turns into a rhythmic old-world frenzy that allows the band to jam, then into a rollicking, lilting romp that crescendos back into the old-world stomp.
The band have followed their debut LP with a video for Rigoletto’s “Wolves on the Balcony,” which flexes their folk muscles as an entrant in NPR’s annual Tiny Desk Contest. While they wait for the results, Pyrenesia will be busy performing in support of Off-Beat Symphony. They will play April 27, Godfrey Daniels, Bethlehem, Pa., with Alex Radus; April 28 at Shadfest in their hometown of Lambertville; May 5 and June 2 at Logan Inn, New Hope; July 13, Black Potatoe Music Festival, Clinton; July 27, Little Engine Studio, Frenchtown; Aug. 4, Shippen Manor, Oxford, and Aug. 22, Whittemore Gardens, Lebanon.