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Seems to me the Syracuse music scene is ramping up. I see more music events nudging into the calendar, such as the Vinyl series, Beatle’Cuse (April 2nd), PettyFest (April 23). I see more people going to shows. This year, the SAMMY awards reported a record-breaking number of original music entries. It’s like Christmas day for me, when I see more people digging into the arts. So, this month we’re going to talk a bit about a new release from the very notable Irv Lyons Jr., called Wonderland.
Two things I like best about this record:
1. It is paramount that an artist understands that the whole thing is about having a “thing,” and understanding it. Right? Like… Elvis could sing about 6 notes and grind his hops like the devil. Dylan could sing 1.5 no
tes but bro
ught validation to the rock lyric. Both these guys understood their “thing.” And from that they forged a very strong matter-of-style. After all, matter-of-style is the thing that makes us resonate with the groups that we do. akin to walking a tight-rope, its risky business. Get it right and its amazing result. Miss by a little bit and its a long way down, from there.
Wonderland possesses a very overt matter of style. And I dig it. There’s an urban sheen present here, even on the tune that would otherwise be rendered in their traditions. Whether its an R.&B. number or a Latin groove or roots, rap, moments, or rock, it all holds together well with this uptown attitude in he production.
Which brings me to number two:
Much of the spirit of this record is about sonic adventure. The arran
gements and musicianship are stellar. The writing is good and relevant. But, sonic ally, Irv Lyons Jr. and company (which is a short who’s-who list of great Syracuse musicians…) dabble in a variety cultural origins, but, the production handling of the sound—thanks, in part to Jeff Moleski—is an ambitions adventure utilizing the studio, lightly, as an instrument itself.
The title-track skips along in a hip-hoppish groove in an R.&B. setting. “Hypnotized” takes a step to the left in its elegant tripiness. “Be My Baby (Remix)” is my favorite tune of the album, because it flat out kicks ass in its cool-dark-weird hard-rock, tribalness… the sound of this song is in its own unique place. Another favorite is “I Love the Night (Remix).” A song that would be blasting away in the mexican dance clubs I used to visit on occassion around 3am when the arty really kicks in. The cool little twilight Zone-esque guitar lick irreverently finds its way into the mix in. Together, along with some fun on the mixing console, this tune also sits freshly in its own place. There are several tunes on this CD that are latin-based in a way that Santana fans will enjoy. There are even a coupla straight-up rockers that are sure to make 5 or so chickies put their drinks down, get out of their seats to invade the dance floor. I know you know you know those five chickies I’m talking about who always get the party started. I’ll leave it at that, so you can discover the rest of the goodies yourself. Altogether, its a bic-flicker of an albnum with a totally fun credit list of groovy players.
I’ve seen Irv a few times over the last couple of months at the open jam at Limp Lizard Liverpool where he’s part of the house band. And what follows, here is a short chat I had with him.
Chuck Schiele: Hello, Irv. Share with us the inspiration for the album and the material on it.
Irv Lyons Jr.: The CD is about love. Stories in my mind. Capsules of moments that I envisioned everyone experiencing. Some personal. Some from other people and some fictional. A CD of stories of love.
CS: I heard you on the radio a lot over this past summer with Dave Frisina…. Lacrosse… Nation…. Music…. Please elaborate for those who didn’t catch the radio bits with Dave.
IL: I co-host with Dave Frisina and Brett Bucktooth on The Rebel 105.9, Fridays at 4:oo starting mid March. The show is Red Hawks Friday. We use the show to promote Onondaga Red Hawks Lacrosse team and the Onondaga Nation Arena. It also provides an insight into the Haudenosaunee Culture. Some of our previous guests on the air were: Mayor Stephanie Miner, County Exec Joanie Mahoney, Oren Lyons, Coach John Desko, Jim Brown, The Thompson Brothers, Alfie Jacques, Rex Lyons and Charlie Lockwood.
CS: You fall into the category of “seasoned pro.” How did you get started in music? When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
IL: I always knew I wanted to be a musician. From my earliest memory. My mother had an awesome record collection. I wore those records out. Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Johnny Burnette, Elvis, Johnny Cash and Little Richard. I picked up a guitar at 5 and never put it down. I played in garage bands in high school and moved on up.
CS: If you could keep only one guitar in your collection. Which one would it be?
IL: My American Standard Fender Stratocaster.
CS: You recently received an award. Tell us about your accolades.
IL: I have won a SAMMY and been nominated for a NAMMY with The Ripcords. The latest win is an Akademia Music Award for best Rock/R&B album. But honestly, my biggest accolades are: Meritorious Service Metal, ARMY Commendation Medal, ARMY Achievement Medal and six Good Conduct Medals. These are what I am most proud of.
CS: Impressive. And thank you for your service. Back to the seasoned pro thing: What would be your advice for new musicians approaching the music business?
IL: Practice, practice, practice. What I mean is to know your instrument, to play it well and carefully select who you play with. Make sure that you all get along . Don’t just play covers… write originals. Develop your own style. The bottom line is if you can’t play with passion… then don’t bother playing music. Music is sacred, so keep it sacred.
CS: Amen. You’ve earned a lot of notoriety in CNY as a musician. What do you have to say about the CNY music scene?
IL: I think there are many brilliant musicians in Syracuse and Central New York. The way I see it… the squeaky wheel gets the oil around here. The same bands and players get the same gigs. There is an inner sanctum here in Syracuse. If you are not a part of it, you slip through the cracks. It’s a shame. Covers is what’s praised and adored. Originals not so much.
CS: Oh my God! Why is that? Makes me nuts….
IL: So I think Syracuse could be an even better place for music if they were to embrace all of their musicians, but I have no control over this. The people who put on shows and book bands… it’s up to them. Otherwise, you may never get to hear some of these great players.
CS: Yeah… I feel that those kinds of things deter the growth and keeps things small. Its weird to me since none of the heroes in our record collection got where they did by thinking that way. Soooooo, hm. What do you think might make the CNY music scene better?
IL: I think there needs to be a paradigm shift. The same people who book bands and festivals have their favorites. The same artists always play these concerts… so we need to look at the musicians we know are out there, but don’t get booked. We need to embrace those artists and bands that are on the fringe before we loose them. People check out when they are not included or made welcome. I think that’s what is really happening and I think that’s bullshit.
CS: I agree. I can’t imagine having the only the Coke or Pepsi menu choices knowing the wealth of talent on the scene. God, I can really get rolling on this subject, but, this is your interview. What groups might you recommend to a visitor looking for music in Syracuse? Who’s on Irv’s radar?
IL: Some under the radar musicians that I think are brilliant are: George Newton, Morris Tarbell, Brownskin, Diana Jacobs Band, Joe Henson, Honky Tonk Hindooz, Amerikan Primitive, Johnny and the Stone Throwers, Richie Melito and Modus Operandi.
CS: Who do you listen to for inspiration and influence?
IL: I go back to the basics. Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Steely Dan, Clapton, The Stones and my new band of choice, Robert Glasper Experiment. If I really want to get out there Miles Davis will always make me think 180 degrees opposite of what I’m thinking. Miles Davis always said… “don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”
CS: I still learn from Miles. What’s in the near future for Irv Lyons Jr.?
IL: Changing the strings on my Strat.
CS: Haha… heh…you guitar players….Tell us where we can keep in touch with your music?
IL: https://www.reverbnation.com/nativeman, http://www.indigocny.com, https://www.facebook.com/irving.lyons?fref=ts, https://twitter.com/IrvingTLyonsJr
CS: Okay, man. Thanks for doing the interview and good luck with your new album.
IL: thanks, Chuck.
Chuck Schiele is an award-winning musician, art director, producer, editorialist, artist, activist, member of SaltCityChill.com and fan of the CNY music scene. To be considered for this column, please write firstname.lastname@example.org.