June 22, 2016 by 1888media
Led by guitarist/composer Nick Russo and vocalist/guitarist Betina Hershey, New York City’s Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches are likely the only band infusing elements of Gullah-Geechee culture with folk traditions, New Orleans influences, and music from the 1920s.
Rounding out the group is Miles Griffith, a uniquely talented artist who couples an uncanny harmonic sense with a non-traditional use of his voice as a percussive instrument, and Dr. David Pleasant, an esteemed African American culture bearer, who uses his body, voice, and a drum set made of tambourines.
Seamlessly binding together to create a greater whole, it’s a mesmerizing amalgam of music and motion that boils to fruition on the group’s new 10-track collection, ‘Very Next Thing EP,’ a high-spirited journey along the sonic highways of the early twentieth century.
Showcasing ten songs in just over 30 minutes, Very Next Thing lovingly shines a bright spotlight on an eclectic canon of the American songbook, adding fresh spice to “This Little Light of Mine,” “You Are My Sunshine,” Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Freight Train,” “When The Red, Red Robin,” “Nobody But My Baby Is Getting My Love,” “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Jock-A-Mo (Iko Iko).”
Coupled with two originals, “I Don’t Believe In Love” and “I’m Gettin’ Married,” Very Next Thing will be released September 30 with a hometown record release show that night at Rockwood Music Hall (Stage 3)
Gullah-Geechee was developed by Africans on the islands and coasts of Georgia and South Carolina centuries ago. They introduced traditional instruments (banjo, fiddle) and novel playing styles. Drums were banned—so they used their hands, feet, stick, and mouths to create drum sounds. This strong influence on the band gives a distinct sound.
“From ‘The Charleston’ to ‘Porgy and Bess,’ the American sound has benefited from a good dose of Gullah-Geechee. Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches have established a unique connection to the drum folk spirit of that culture,” says Dr. Pleasant. “This powerful and strong influence for our band brings spiritual energy to our shows.”
Russo continues, “My musical life has always been surrounded by an eclectic combination of very unique musicians and scenes so naturally my own band has been a melting pot of many different cultures, genres, instruments, sounds and people. Plus, I enjoy bringing different folks and scenes together!”
THE SONGS AND THEIR STORIES
“My mom used to sing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ and I loved singing harmony with her. She passed away three weeks after Nick and I got married and she’s had a huge influence on my musicality since she loved country, bluegrass, and so many genres of music,” says Betina.
“Elizabeth Cotten’s ‘Freight Train’ had to be our first track,” says Nick. “The vibe Betina creates with this tune with my added slide fills, and David’s harmonica playing creates a beautiful texture. The way Elizabeth Cotten sings and plays guitar is a masterful part of our country’s African-American heritage.”
“We started playing ‘Jock-A-Mo (Iko Iko)’ as a band because of a New Orleans gig we played in Manhattan a few years ago. However, when we first recorded this as a live video shoot, we added Miles and he improvised a vocal line and Betina harmonized during the interlude section (on the bVII chord) and an arrangement was born! On a second studio recording date we improvised yet another version with Mamadou Ba on bass and I’m playing resonator with a brass slide.” (Nick)
“‘I Don’t Believe in Love’ is a saucy flirtation of a song. I do believe in love, but it creates all kinds of pressure.” (Betina)