Manhattan Beat: The Rewd Onez, Colin Blunstone, the Cactus Blossoms, and Soulfly

The Rewd Onez/Sidewalk/February 6, 2019

Historically, the Lower East Side of Manhattan has been a magnet for the most avant-garde among the arts community, and Rew Starr, born in the Bronx and raised in Intercourse, Pennsylvania, is among the current wave. For seven years, Starr hosted a quirky, weekly internet television show called Rew & Who? When that ended two years ago, Starr began acting; she has acted in dramatic plays, including a 10-week run of What They’ll Remember, and in minor roles in as many as 28 independent low budget films, including recent entries like Setesh (2017), Get My Gun (2017), and Fish Bones (2018). She released a six-song EP, 2015’s A Proper Release, and several singles. She teaches voice and guitar to children ages three months to 17. Perhaps most visibly, she sings her original songs in Lower East Side music clubs under her own name, Flack Blamingo, and the Rewd Onez.

As the Rewd Onez took the stage at Sidewalk, Starr’s high platform boots, big sunglasses, and choppy hair already identified her as a colorful character—even if the color was mostly solid black. Like her other bands, the Rewd Onez usually consists of Starr, bassist Donald Dixon, and a rotating cast of local musicians; this night it included guitarist Joff Wilson (the Bowery Boys, SoulCake) and drummer Tami Johnson (Dolly Trolly). The songs were raw, left-of-center pop with sparse arrangements and odd and intriguingly curious lyrics. Forget about poetic nuances; a tongue-in-cheek song like “U Suck” slayed its message forthright. The Rewd Onez is neither music you likely will hear on a Top 40 radio station, nor a band that will headline large venues. But, for all its slightly weird and eccentric flavors, the jovial band and its unconventional music were thoroughly enjoyable.

Colin Blunstone/City Winery/February 8, 2019

Colin Blunstone was born in Hatfield, a small town north of London in Hertfordshire County, and attended school in nearby St. Albans, where he met his future band mates in the Zombies. In 1961, the band won a local contest, where the prize was the opportunity to record a demo. The song, “She’s Not There,” led to a recording contract with a major label, and four hit singles before the band split in 1968 over management issues. Blunstone then worked briefly as a clerk in the insurance business before launching a solo career in 1969. He enjoyed hit singles in other countries but had little success in the United States. He teamed periodically with his former Zombies band mate Rod Argent, and in recent years the duo has also performed live and recorded as the Zombies. Blunstone’s 11th and most recent solo album is 2012’s On the Air Tonight. Blunstone will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as part of the Zombies, in March.

With no new album to promote at City Winery, Colin Blunstone played a set of his better-known songs, many of which were soft-rocking, mid-tempo cover songs. He introduced many of the songs with anecdotes, sharing how they came into his repertoire. As his four-piece band (guitarist Manolo Polidario, keyboardist Peter Billington, bassist Elliot Mason, drummer Steve Rodford) opened each song, Blunstone’s light, velvet voice wrapped itself around the lyrics and melodies, periodically ascending to an unusually high range. Often the songs evolved largely into vehicles for Blunstone’s climb to the higher vocal registers. As could be expected, the audience responded with the most enthusiasm to the Zombies hits, but also left impressed with Blunstone’s soaring and sweeping vocal gymnastics.

Cactus Blossoms/The Loft at City Winery/February 13, 2019

The Cactus Blossoms are two brothers from Minneapolis, Minnesota, vocalists/guitarists Page Burkum and Jack Torrey. Initially, Torrey wanted to be like Bob Dylan, and Burkam played drums in a blues band. They became roommates in the late ’00s and started singing old folk and country tunes together off their record player. In 2010 they began performing publicly as the Cactus Blossoms, performing old harmony-based country songs and original songs that sounded like they were vintage. After releasing a debut album in 2011, the Cactus Blossoms were offered a residency at a club in St. Paul, Minnesota, so they assembled a band. Over the next year and a half, the repertoire featured more original songs along with the gut wrenching, tongue-in-cheek heartbreakers that were 30 years older than them. The Cactus Blossoms will release a third studio album, Easy Way, on March 1, 2019.

From the beginning, the Cactus Blossoms drew comparisons to the Louvin Brothers, the Everly Brothers, and other sibling harmony duos from half a century ago. Indeed, the uncanny vocal work recalls a retro country music heritage, but apparently that is not destined to be the terminal point in this journey. The brothers brought a four-piece band to the Loft at City Winery that added a contemporary folk-pop curve to the otherwise timeless roots. The trajectory pointed forward as well as backward. The homegrown harmonies serenaded sweetly, tenderly, and expressively, while the crisp dual crooning and swooning on the lilting ballads were the charm—though, the more upbeat, fuller-sounding songs will likely appeal to a younger and broader audience. This is the Cactus Blossoms today, an ensemble that is growing into its definitive sound, and the future looks bright.

Soulfly/The Gramercy Theatre/February 11, 2019

Max Cavalera was one of the founding fathers of thrash metal and groove metal with the Brazilian band Sepultura. He left that band in 1996 and a year later formed Soulfly, in his adopted home of Phoenix, Arizona. The band’s name was taken from the Deftones song “Headup,” on which Cavalera collaborated. Soulfly has had numerous line-up changes, with Cavalera being the only constant member. The band presently consists of Cavalera on guitar and vocals, lead guitarist Marc Rizzo, bassist Mike Leon, and drummer Zyon Cavalera, Max’s son. Soulfly released its 11th and most recent album, Ritual, on October 19, 2018.

Soulfly returned to the Gramercy Theatre, seemingly the band’s New York home due to its annual concerts there, once again ripping into its fast and fierce metal. Soulfly opened with three songs from the most recent album, beginning with title track, “Ritual,” followed by “The Summoning” and “Under Rapture.” From there, fans heard many of Soulfly’s harsh and heavy standards, including “Rise of the Fallen”, “Prophecy” and “Jumpdafuckup.” The newer songs matched the intensity of Soulfly’s 20-year catalog, further establishing that Cavalera’s growl and speedy guitar riffs, Rizzo’s grizzly leads, and the rhythm section’s heavy pounding were driving the metal music to ruthless extremes. Raw, grimy, and gritty, the clever weave of clean guitar and muddy tones was ingenious and intriguing. Atonal sounds and brash distortion escalated the confrontational elements of the songs, yet Soulfly clung fervently to head banging riffs and rhythms, so that the individual musicians’ contributions did not disappear into a blur of volume. As such, Soulfly masterfully married the worlds of thrash and extreme metal.