NYC music

Ghost Funk Orchestra: “To The Moon!”

Last Fall when we shared our KUTX staff picks for Levitation Fest, I got a chance to gush about one of all-time favorite contemporary projects, Ghost Funk Orchestra. That slick, spectral sound clearly continues to haunt me, because I’ve got yet another chance to gawk at Ghost Funk Orchestra today.

For those who haven’t already been possessed, Ghost Funk Orchestra is the brainchild of NYC multi-instrumentalist/composer/arranger Seth Applebaum. Alongside Applebaum’s outstanding studio crew, Ghost Funk Orchestra raises a whole array of retro sounds back from their original decades-old resting places – exotica, psychedelia, jazz, surf rock – you name it. Well, just like the Apollo program, not long after the last LP, GFO’s already gearing up for their next mission – their fifth full-length, A Trip to the Moon, out February 23rd.

Inspired by the space age arrangements of Quincy Jones and Eddie Palmieri, this fifteen-stage instrumental, interstellar exploration may just rival George Méliès’ groundbreaking 1902 short of the same name in terms of outlandish style. The record’s lead single and title track of sorts, “To The Moon!” almost puts Tower of Power to shame with stereo-spanning, brilliantly-mixed brass that orbits Applebaum’s mission controlling, garage-style guitar. In other words, it doesn’t sound quite like Ghost Funk Orchestra’s completely ditched their dusty sheets for spiffy new spacesuits – and we love to hear it. Between its opening mosaic of authentic NASA transmissions and its descending reverse guitar solo that cues re-entry to our normal lives, we’re expecting A Trip to the Moon to hail in a new generation of “lost cosmonauts” with a one-of-a-kind astral listening experience.

Katy Kirby: “Cubic Zirconia” (ACL Fest Pop-Up)

We’ve got just one more ACL Pop-Up to share with you for Song of the Day, and this one comes with an exciting bit of news. It comes courtesy of indie-folk-rock singer Katy Kirby, who was raised just about an hour’s drive from Austin out in Spicewood before relocating to Nashville for college, and most recently, Brooklyn. Bouncing from one musical hub to another’s done wonders for Kirby’s artistic wisdom, as she’s definitely leveled up in the half decade since dropping her debut EP Juniper.

And the momentum’s been especially strong in the post-COVID era, considering Kirby just played both Sundays of ACL Fest on that big ol’ Miller Lite Stage. Those ACL gigs are bookended between two new singles – “Cubic Zirconia” from the tail end of August – and, just a few hours old, “Table”. The latter arrived this morning alongside an announcement for Katy Kirby’s sophomore full-length Blue Raspberry, set for release January 26th.

Based on the weight of her ACL appearances and “Table”, we’re expecting a generous batch of ripe originals for Blue Raspberry. But if you couldn’t make it out to Zilker and want a taste of the new LP, you can harvest its lead single “Cubic Zirconia” for the emotionally-authentic piece of soft rock that it is with Katy Kirby’s close knit backstage pop-up performance.

Bobby Harden & The Soulful Saints: “One Tribe”

Even though it’s been five years since Charles Bradley left us, the sensation’s parting message still stands strong: that it’s never too late to break out and follow your dreams. Bradley’s experience is plenty inspiring on its own, but imagine having a bona fide genre legend tell you they remind you of themselves in their midcentury heyday.

That’s exactly what happened when church-taught, wedding-refined singer Bobby Harden was recruited into The Blues Brothers Band a little over a decade back. Harden’s passionate pipes quickly earned endorsements from Blues Brothers co-founders Steve Cropper, Lou Marini, Matt Murphy, and most notably – touring frontman and Stax superstar Eddie Floyd. These auspicious affirmations eventually enticed Harden to form his own outfit – Soul Purpose – a formative but relatively short-lived endeavor that passed on right around the same time that Charles Bradley did.

That’s not to say Harden’s spark died alongside Bradley; instead, with the help of veteran trumpeter/producer Billy Aukstik, Bradley’s backing group reformed behind Bobby Harden as The Soulful Saints. Between the band’s canonized handle and the passing of torches from Floyd and Bradley, the spiritual weight within Bobby Harden’s most recent chapter can’t be overstated. But rather than revert back to his developmental gospel days, Bobby Harden & The Soulful Saints are revitalizing the best of retro-soul.

This Friday Bobby Harden & The Soulful Saints release their debut full-length Bridge of Love, ten tracks that pave a soul expressway between urbane ballads, elegant ’70s-style pop, rudimentary R&B, and more. These originals would’ve been incredible had they been performed by Harden alone, but the Soulful Saints really bless this collection with seductive strings, heavy horns, buoyant backup vocals, and a bit of Latin-tinged rhythms to top it all off. Hear for yourself on Bridge of Love‘s latest lead single “One Tribe”, which channels the progressive psych-soul arrangements of early-mid-’70s Curtis Mayfield and The Temptations – almost like an equal-and-opposite companion piece to both “Freddie’s Dead” and “Ball of Confusion” – while retaining Harden’s idiosyncratic howl. From its initial snare taps straight to its final exclamation mark of a horn hit, we’re positive you’ll find more than “One Tribe” who’ll love this record.

SUSU: “Mine”

SXSW Music is the talk of town all this week, and of course we’ve got a handful of live performances for your consideration. Starting off today with another set of four all-caps letters, SUSU. Since the mid-2010’s, jiggish Gemini singers Liza Colby and Kia Warren have guided SUSU through New York City’s steamy indie rock-and-soul scene. The quintet clawed their way onto streaming platforms with 2019’s Panther City EP and follow it up this spring with a new baker’s dozen of outrageously catchy originals on Call Susie.

Sure, SUSU’s in town for SXSW, but between their camaraderie alongside KUTX favorites Sweet Spirit, they’re certainly no stranger to the Live Music Capital of the World. As of this publication, SUSU’s already about halfway through their slew of gigs, having already wrapped up two back-to-back shows on Friday, Saturday’s Hoss Sauce House Party, and a set early this afternoon at Empire Control Room. But fortunately for USUS, SUSU is still going full speed ahead.

SUSU’s spree continues 8:45PM tonight at Hole in the Wall and return to the Hotel Vegas Patio at 10:45PM. SUSU rings in 5 o’clock right for the Paste Magazine Showcase presented by Ilegal Mezcal on Wednesday before closing out their Spring Break 5:30PM Thursday at Antone’s. There are plenty of free-with-RSVP options to see SUSU, so find a day and time that works for you and claim it as “Mine” – which is also the title of Call Susie‘s latest spark-plug of a lead single.

Samara Joy: “Warm in December”

Well…it’s the very last Song of the Day for 2022. As mentioned before, we’ll be off for a couple weeks and returning with an exciting batch of premieres on Monday, January 2nd. But with Christmas just over a week away now, we’d be remiss if we didn’t save the very best 2022 yuletide tune for last. If you don’t know Bronx-born vocalist Samara Joy, hop aboard the hype train (whose existing passengers include LaKeith Stanfield and Regina King) now. At just 23, Joy’s already begun to lead a new generation of jazz royalty, thanks to a pair of incredible post-lockdown LPs. Joy’s latest, Linger Awhile, picks up where her 2021 eponymous debut left off, and marks an indoctrination into the ranks of fellow Verve virtuosos – Anita O’Day, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. Both albums make great evergreen gifts for the vocal jazz fanatic in your family, but Samara’s not shy about her love of Christmas either. In fact she was just here in Austin last Wednesday for Big Band Holidays w/J@LC Orchestra. Joy just dropped an intimate, gospel collaboration “O Holy Night” with The McLendon Family, but considering the all-too-real risks of blackouts this coming Winter, we’re tossing “Warm in December” straight into your stocking. By nixing the clichéd cheese of sleigh bell percussion and leaving plenty of space for improv piano and sensitive dynamic shifts, “Warm in December” transcends your run-of-the-mill Christmas playlist as a contemporary jazz instant classic.

SUSS: “The First Thaw”

Back on Monday we mentioned that we’d be plying the final Songs of the Day with nothing but Holiday tunes. But honestly, today’s spotlight is a bit looser of an interpretation…and it comes on behalf of New York City ambient country outfit SUSS. See, SUSS has endured several dramatic changes of season in the past couple years, least of which concern the weather.

Coming off the success of their 2020 LP Promise, SUSS rode the momentum right back into the studio for their next record, Night Suite. But just as they’d wrapped, SUSS co-founder Gary Leib tragically passed away. With Night Suite already completed and drenched in a sense of loss, SUSS soldiered on as a three-piece with a master plan: create a series of EPs that contextualize Leib’s final contributions within SUSS’s evolving formulas.

Night Suite was followed by Heat Haze this past June and Winter Was Hard just last month. Concluding with Across the Horizon, this comprehensive four-parter was compiled into an eponymous, double-disc chronicle just a couple weeks back. Of course, SUSS‘s consumption has to be done in one sitting for the full effect. But in lieu of still-busy schedules, and perhaps even some end-of-year anxiety, you can also jump straight to Winter Was Hard. Like a sans-dialogue Gary Paulsen novel, this six-song suite will transport you to a bleak and trying tundra of arctic arrangements, warmed only by fond memories and our primal need to survive. Within that blizzard, the near-meter-less-ness and barren instrumental pairings of “The First Thaw” make for an especially magnificent piece of meditation.

Takuya Kuroda: “Midnight Crisp”

It’s been almost a full decade since I graduated college, and I’d like to think that those I haven’t kept up with remember me for my two biggest creative endeavors at the time: playing trumpet and producing jazz-sampled hip-hop beats. I only say that because it seems like a pretty cool combo that I’ve sadly shied away from in the past few years. However if you are on the hunt for that unique pairing, look no further than Kobe Japan’s Takuya Kuroda. It took little time for Kuroda to cement himself in Brooklyn’s bustling jazz scene, where he eventually linked up with legends like José James and DJ Premier (who later recruited Takuya as a centerpiece for The Badder Band).

Takuya Kuroda just wrapped up Newport Jazz Fest and embarks on a month-long European tour in October. The occasion? Kuroda’s seventh studio album, Midnight Crisp. Like a soundtrack that switches between scenes of strutting, sensuality, and solitude, this sensational six-song collection comes out October 21st. So with a couple months to spare, feel free to step into the self-titled pseudo-’70s album opener, which just landed yesterday alongside the record announcement.

Kolumbo: “The Key Club, 1976”

I’ve never been shy about my love of jazz, pretty much every style across the spectrum, save Dixieland (sorry, not sorry). One of my all-time favorite sub-genres out of that bunch is Exotica, the Latin-leaning, arrangement-driven “easy listening” style made famous by Martin Denny in the ’50s. Now, I know I’m far from the only Texan who loves Exotica; see for instance Dallas-born keyboardist Frank LoCrasto, whose citified upbringing made him yearn for the idiosyncratic mystique of tropical resorts. LoCrasto still lives the city life – in Brooklyn – where he’s eponymously released four solo albums and scored for television and film since the early ’00s. But to compensate for lack of sand and palm trees in his ongoing urban surroundings, LoCrasto has recently created a new project that fully embraces Exotica, Kolumbo.

LoCrasto serves as composer, arranger, and keyboardist for Kolumbo and conducted group sessions that averaged around a dozen players per track for his debut LP Gung Ho. An instant mood-setter, Gung Ho melds modern sensibilities with mid-century orchestral jazz-pop formulas for an eight-track experience that’ll make you want to go on vacation permanently. So fill a coconut cup with your favorite refreshment, toss on some shades and a straw hat, and sink into “The Key Club, 1976”.

Tr38cho & Ajent O: “Coup De Grace”

As we all know, New York is one of hip-hop’s central hubs so it can be tough to keep track of everything coming out. But there’s one EP in particular from last year that you won’t want to gloss over,Project Mayhem. Two of Buffalo’s finest – rap-punk vocalistTr38cho and producer-emcee Ajent O – went in hard on Project Mayhem, and as you can imagine from the name, the record’s full of transgressive energy and societal dissonance. This feature-filled eight-track also covers a ton of sub-genre sonics, be it with gritty piano chops, classic breakbeats, and Neptunes-esque percussion. So instead of trying to fight Project Mayhem, become a part of the movement with the album’s lead single (and music video) “Coup De Grace”!

José James: “Christmas in New York”

Born in Minneapolis and now based out of New York, guitarist-vocalist José James continues to inspire joy at the intersection of jazz and hip-hop. His discovery in London about a decade back led to legendary jazz label Blue Note Records signing James and releasing five of his albums between 2012 and 2018. Since then José James has been operating through his own independent label, Rainbow Blonde Records, who shared No Beginning No End 2 last year, the live album José James: New York 2020 earlier this year, and Merry Christmas from José James just a month ago. With Merry Christmas James recaptures the glee of his younger yuletide experiences with some familiar jazz favorites and two originals – all of which feel more multi-faceted and nuanced than their surface-levels may suggest – particularly the melancholy “Christmas in New York”.

Benjamin Lazar Davis: “Medicine”

New York’s Benjamin Lazar Davis already showed off his multi-instrumental indie pop chops on his 2018 debut Nothing Matters but in the three short years since then he’s leveled up even further. A proven mastermind of sonic choices and vivid, varied arrangements, Benjamin Lazar Davis released his eponymous sophomore full-length today, blurring the lines between the delicacy of Sufjan Stevens and the psychedelic boundlessness of Flaming Lips. Benjamin Lazar Davis is a carefully crafted ten-track testament to Davis’ inert songwriting intuition and faith in the collaborative process, with an extensive dynamic range that creates a one-of-a-kind listener experience. This LP is guaranteed to expose you to some of the most unique sounds of 2021, heard most compactly in “Medicine”.

Cory Henry: “Dreaming”

If you’re a connoisseur of contemporary jazz-soul, then you’re likely already in-the-know about New York’s Cory Henry. This Snarky Puppy veteran multi-instrumentalist-producer-composer shines chiefly on keys and vocals, and invites the classic gospel, funk, and R&B tones of Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, and Marvin Gaye into the realm of “future-soul”.

Cory Henry shared his aptly-titled LP Best of Me last Friday and kicks off a week-long stint at the legendary Blue Note Jazz Club tonight. At just shy of a dozen tracks, the high-level ingenuity of Best of Me puts it in conversation with iconic soul records like InnervisionsFuture Shock, and What’s Going On?, albeit with an inherently modern quality, best exemplified on “Dreaming Of”!

Cochemea: “Black Pearl”

During the heyday of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, people pretty much said the same thing. “She sure can belt it out but that horn section doesn’t hurt either.” And though Sharon Jones has since passed, The Dap-Kings have continued a collective legacy of excellence. Take for example, Dap-Kings sax virtuoso/multi-instrumentalist Cochemea Gastelum, who’s rounded up the very best of Daptone’s rhythm sections to fill out his mononymous seven-piece Cochemea.

Next Friday Cochemea continues the cultural exploration that began with 2019’s All My Relations with Vol. II – Baca Sewa. You can expect an expertly-packaged deep dive into Gastelum’s Yacqui/Yoeme heritage across Baca Sewa‘s ten spiritual jazz originals, all of which are guaranteed to have an entrancing effect, as heard on Vol. II’s latest single, “Black Pearl”!

Cautious Clay: “Karma & Friends” (At Home)

For folks hip to the playlist heavyweights of KUTX and, well, most NPR Music stations, the name Cautious Clay should be pretty familiar. Dating back to his debut single “Cold War” in the Fall of 2017, this Brooklyn singer-guitarist has brewed up a seductive concoction of R&B, hip-hop, and soul, with a delicate vocal delivery that’s sure to elicit a swoon or two.

On the Studio 1A veteran‘s latest release (and first full-length), Deadpan Love, Cautious Clay once again invites a strong sense of electronic production into the mix. But that doesn’t mean Clay can’t still rock it acoustic when he wants to. Check out an intimate, stripped-down set recorded at Orchard Studios in New York that Cautious Clay taped just for us right before Deadpan Love dropped, including some of the album’s strongest contenders, “Agreeable”, “Shook”, and “Karma & Friends”.

Loose Cattle: “Sidewalk Chicken”

Neither New York nor New Orleans are particularly renowned for their unbound livestock, but that could all change with Loose Cattle. With Michael Cerveris and Kimberley Kaye at the core, Loose Cattle first came out of the stable in 2011, and within that decade they’ve evolved from a duo to a quintet, from punk into alt-country, and just within the timeline of COVID, recorded their debut full-length.

Loose Cattle’s got the proverbial bull by the horns with the release of Heavy Lifting last Friday, rambunctious kickin’ out of the barn with its eleven rustic and sweltering originals including an urban twist on a fellow barnyard favorite with “Sidewalk Chicken”!

Combo Lulo: “Escuchen A Mama” (feat. Alba Ponce de León)

With the abundance of side projects, solo releases, and other one-off endeavors in this era of home studios and virtual collaborations, the term “supergroup” can get used a little overzealously. But considering the quantity of members from high-profile groups like Charles Bradley‘s Extraordinaires, Antibalas, the Easy Star Allstars, and the Skatalites, the phrase seems fitting for Big Apple ensemble Combo Lulo.

Between their collective talents, stage-filling arrangements, and intercontinental, Afro-Latin-Caribbean style, Combo Lulo’s set an incredibly high standard for fellow world music groups, thereby living up to the band’s namesake excellence. This Saturday the eight-to-fifteen-piece releases their surreal nine-song debut, Neotropic Dream, and today you can jointly celebrate Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day with a Spanish-language matriarchal message, featuring fellow New Yorker Alba Ponce de León, “Escuchen A Mama”!

John Splithoff: “WGYG”

Born and raised just outside of Chicago, singer-guitarist John Splithoff caught a lot of the soul, R&B, jazz, funk, and pop that blew over from the Windy City, and he’s kept those tones close at hand ever since. Splithoff’s been supplying us with singles dating back to his 2013 independently-released EP but after nearly a full decade, the songwriter’s understandably wanted something a bit more filling to sate his artistic appetite.

Well you can go ahead and gesture “ante up” all you want, but you’ll still have to wait ’til tomorrow to unlock John Splithoff’s debut LP, All In, in its entirety. True to its name, this inaugural full-length gives you an unfettered examination of John Splithoff, whose slick chord progressions and masterful vocal performances wrap up the moody-yet-upbeat record, and will keep your foot tapping with standouts like “WGYG”!

Mackenzie Shivers: “Martha’s Vineyard”

Dating back to her 2014 debut Neverland, multi-instrumentalist Mackenzie Shivers has always been about making her listeners feel less alone. So you can imagine with the quarantine conditions of the pandemic that that task has evolved into a gargantuan one. But despite the hurdles of socially-distanced recording sessions and remote collaborations, the New York-based songwriter was up to the challenge, hauling her piano, family heirloom guitar, and voice box into the studio and coming out with a masterpiece.

This Friday Mackenzie Shivers shares her third LP, Rejection Letter, an album whose ample ten tracks will pierce you with their lush arrangements (including a string section), cinematic atmospheres, and lyrics that build a bridge between anecdotal and universal. Don’t write off Rejection Letter as just another pandemic release; instead stay tuned for the full thing this weekend and expect some more powerful compositions on par with “Martha’s Vineyard”!