Raymond Byron and the White Freighter
Little Death Shaker (Asthmatic Kitty)
Raymond Byron = Ray Raposa of Castanets. The press release goes to great lengths to differentiate this new project from Castanets, however. Some of that is justified. It often rocks more than Castanets. It includes two covers, Dan Reeder's tragicomic "You'll Never Surf Again" and folk legend Kate Wolf's "You're Not Standing Like You Used To" (no Castanets LP has any covers). There's also a little more use of clearly delineated narrative than in the past.
But some participants, including singers Talia Gordon (who takes the lead on the Wolf cover) and Bridget Jacobson, were also Castanets collaborators, and there are several tracks, such as "Don't That Lake Just Shine," which would have sounded perfectly at home on the most recent Castanets album. And, falling between those two approaches, some songs are quiet at the start (thus sounding more like a Castanets song) but then morph into something you might hear a country bar band belt out, such as "Some Kind of Fool," which includes backing vocals by Phosphorescent leader Matthew Houck.
Just because music gets rowdy and there's pedal steel guitar doesn't necessarily mean it's a party, though, as "Meridian, MS" shows -- it's more like the hungover aftermath of too many parties. At one point he sings, "All I wanna do / is have some fun / But I got a feeling / that we've been having too much fun." (The Sheryl Crow quote there cracks me up.)
The spectral impact of "Stateline," in which Byron seems to sing to us from another world, or from a fever dream, would stop any party dead in its tracks, and the closing track, "Allegiance 2," is more repentant hymn than party anthem. Even the most raucous songs are not feel-good music if you pay attention to Byron's lyrics, which remain melancholy. Even when he's in a humorous mood, as on "Some of My Friends," there's a dark undercurrent. Of course, we should probably expect an album titled Little Death Shaker to be deeply disturbing at times.
To sum up, I'd say that since Byron/Raposa is the songwriter, there's a lot of continuity between the two groups, but he's adding more variety to his sound, which works well. Byron's methods may have changed, but he's still in the business of catharsis, and business is good. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based editor, poet, and composer. His song cycle setting five of James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach can be heard here.