The opening cut from The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s new album Casualties, “Anarchy Reloaded”, kicks off the band’s latest release with verve and brio. The lean and well-defined guitar playing sustains its rhythmic pulse throughout the song’s entirety before segueing into a handful of flourishes woven into the arrangement. There’s a compelling contrast between the music’s rock inclinations and the soft touch of Shivdasani’s voice, but Danny Wolf and Michael Feinberg’s rhythm section performance on drums and bass respectively provides added punch for this fantastic album opener. “Have Mercy on Me” is a classic Merrymaker’s Orchestrina quasi-ballad, slightly off-kilter and wreathed in a dreamy languid glow. Though Shivdasani can more than handle the demands of guitar driven efforts like the aforementioned opener, his voice is ideally suited for the sort of material “Have Mercy on Me” offers listeners. Taken as a tandem, “Anarchy Reloaded” and “Have Mercy on Me” gives the band’s audience a memorable one-two punch to begin Casualties.
Shivdasani’s guitar sound is particularly potent on the third track “Burn”. The beginning of the song focuses its attention on atmospheric and graceful acoustic guitar, tasteful percussion, and Shivdasani’s vocals. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina follow their trajectory for the bulk of the song before a short interlude just after the three minute mark takes the track in a much different direction. The final two plus minutes finds Shivdasani and his cohorts ramping up the six string fueled intensity, diving into full electric mode, and spiking the tempo to great effect. The screwy humor of “Definitely Not My Underwear” is tempered a lot by the fierce guitar driven attack of the song, by far the rockiest entry on this album. Despite the humorous edge, Shivdasani sings the track straight and it makes an odd track even more memorable.
The simple straight forward drumming from Danny Wolf and Michael Feinberg’s bass playing capture my attention on “Imaginary Friend”, but the overall presentation is even finer. This is one of the more evocative numbers included on Casualties and the patience Shivdasani shows for developing this track pays off for one of the album’s brightest gems. It is a powerful illustration of the nuance and layers listeners can find in Shivdasani’s songwriting. “Thinking About You” is as well. Jack Redford contributes on bass guitar for this track, but you are hard pressed to notice much difference – two distinctly different bass players are able to mold and shape their styles to realize Shivdasani’s musical vision and it’s a testament to their talents as players. The light acoustic jangle of this tune is especially satisfying for me.
The finale “The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina” is another track no one but this band would write or record. Shivdasani and his collaborators bring an idiosyncratic style to bear on each of the album’s songs while still couching their musical endeavors within a recognizable frame of reference – everything has a signature feel, but nothing ever sounds alien to our ears. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina are continuing to build an impressive discography with albums like this and I feel confident we can expect more of the same and better from them as the future plays out.
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