(Los Angeles). Gypsy rock and roll; sounds dangerous. Actually it is dangerous, but a lot of fun. And no one does it better than Junk Parlor, as their latest album, Melusina, demonstrates. Melusina is like taking a drug – a big rush, continuing high, then addiction, often accompanied by dancing. True to its Melusina namesake, the twin-tailed mermaid long used as a symbol in alchemy to represent female sexuality and the dual nature of humanity, the album is a combination of wild abandon, joyful cavorting and dark tales.
Junk Parlor’s founder and leader, Jason Vanderford, has conjured a gypsy-cadenced album that recalls the classic belly dance LP’s of Ala Turk or Radio Bastet and mixed them with instrumental gypsy folk melodies and a touch of rock. He weaves this bubbling concoction together with his howling, haunting voice and cinematic lyrics. The result is a unique music form that you just can’t get out of you head. But then, why would you want to?
Melusina unfurls in ten songs, some instrumental and some lyrical. Opening with the high octane Macedonia gypsy traditional dance tune “Majstore Majstore,” it flows naturally into a second instrumental, the Vanderford-written traditional sounding song, “Loverfish.” The notes of “Loverfish” roll out, painting a picture of women dancing by firelight on the beach as the Melusina watches from her perch on a rock offshore, illuminated by the flickering firelight.
The title song “Melusina” rises full length from the sea as Vanderford tells the story in his spookiest voice, while drummer R.T. Goodrich’s snare drum and Tim Bush’s bass propels us forward. “Melusina” also introduces the violin of Hanna Mignano, a welcome new addition to the band. She is a classical violinist with a ring in her nose that tells you she is not quite what her 12 years of study with a Romanian master violinist would lead you to expect. Mignano adds a color and depth and a jazz-like quality that moves the already high altitude talent of Junk Parlor into the stratosphere.
“Alphabet City” starts with a sharp downbeat on the Cajon and then goes dancing and swirling. This is a happy song, a party song that just wants to spin and jump – no story, no artifice, no emotion except joy.
“Golden Earring,” written by Victor Young, downshifts with a slow plaintive guitar that carries the story deep in its notes rather than explicitly in lyrics. Next, the traditional dance song, “Gold Star Academy” brings the pace back to a wild dance level which shifts again with “Into Dust,” a more modern, stripped down and almost blues-arrangement carrying a story related by Vanderford while he is backgrounded by a simple strum and a frame drum or riq.
“Into Dust” gets under your skin and then shoots up with a bridge that tightens your stomach muscles (among others), and moves into a slipstream with Mignano’s emotion-laden strings. The conjoining of the Mignano’s violin and Vanderford’s voice is almost scary, so much so that you want to play it again just to make sure you heard what you think you heard.
Vanderford lets you recuperate with some good old fashioned 4/4 rock in ‘Treehouse” with R.T. moving the rhythm on a Cajon and Jason carrying the melody on an electric guitar played with ‘50s style and flamenco finesse. Pay particular attention to the percussion on “Treehouse” as drummer R.T. Goodrich moves the Cajon and a variety of other percussion instruments to the fore in solos and breakdowns as well serving as the backbone of the piece.
Goodrich continues the Cajon into “High Desert” as the band add shakers, finger cymbals and a perfectly pitched bassline scaffolding Jason’s finger picking. The album wraps us with “Procession of Kardar” written in the 19th century by the Russian composer, Mikael Ippolitov-Ivano, and still fresh today in the hands (and riq drum and guitar) of Vanderford and the band.
While Melusina is directed at fans not only of Junk Parlor, but also of Trad, European folk, and gypsy music, Vanderford has put together a range of songs and a level of playing and production that lifts this album over the genre lines into a broader market of people who love to dance or even just tap their feet to really good wild sound. I, for one, am one of them.
Patrick O’Heffernan. Host, Music FridayLive!