Thursday, August 13, 2009

Body Parts: New Jersey Edition

All Gods' Children: Peace Fills Your Head


From the mid '80s to the mid '90s, New Brunswick, NJ had a very fertile local music scene. One of the most originals band in that scene was All Gods' Children. They were a large band (up to 14 members) with a constantly shifting lineup lead by jazz bassist and songwriter Adam Bernstein. (If you have very young kids, you may recognize Adam Bernstein as the bassist for the current queen of children's music, Laurie Berkner.) Musically, they were all over the map, covering funk, folk, soul, rock, reggae, klezmer, afropop, and avant garde jazz, with equal aplomb. They only released a handful of cassettes in their six-year run, but what really made them special was their live shows: nobody sat at an AGC show, and the band were always having as much fun as the audience.

"Peace Fills Your Head" is from their only full-length studio cassette, Zapata and Other Love Songs, from 1993. (Note: I digitized it from a well-worn cassette, so the fi is not necessarily hi.)

ISOE: Brown-Eyed Stare


One of the great things about All Gods' Children was that it seemed like everyone in the band could play at least two instruments. You often didn't know it until you saw various members in other bands. AGC vocalist/flautist Kate Evans was also a singer-songwriter and keyboardist, and AGC trumpeter Andy Maroko was also an accomplished guitarist. They joined forces for their own band, ISOE, and released one CD, Manhattan Lullaby in 1995. Kate's almost uncomfortably personal lyrics often dealt with relationships, including the CD's lightly funky opening track, "Brown-Eyed Stare".

Tiny Lights: Curlyeyed Open Stare


Although they were based in Hoboken, Tiny Lights were regulars on the New Brunswick scene. Drummer Andy Demos played percussion and various woodwinds in All Gods' Children. Tiny Lights were another band best experienced live, where they came off like Fairport Convention and Sly & the Family Stone jamming on the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus". Their most famous alum is "cellist to the stars" Jane Scarpentoni (Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, R.E.M., etc.), but she was gone by the time they released their fifth album Stop the Sun, I Want to Go Home, in 1992. The album opens with the funky "Curlyeyed Open Stare". Straightforward lyrics were never their forte.

Note: The All Gods' Children and ISOE catalogs are both out of print. The purchase links go to more recent solo albums from the main songwriters of each band.

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