Here’s one of those puzzling instances where a venerable artist with a deep resume (in this case, Mick Collins of The Dirtbombs, Gories, and about ten other bands) makes a great album, yet for some reason absolutely nobody is talking about. Before I get to the music, I have to give it up for the band’s name. As a 40 year New York resident I know the Broadway-Lafayette stop on the NYC subway line very well, but in all my years never recognized its potential as a perfectly clever name for a band that mixes zydeco with a sprinkling of dirty-ass urban rock. And that’s what these guys do on their debut album, which they recorded back in 2015, but is only just getting released now. The thing I love about it is that very little of what Collins and crew are doing falls on the “garage rock” side of the spectrum – instead they dig deep into the roots of zydeco, restoring the original coat of ragged grime that Louisiana’s unique mix of R&B, blues and Creole music is known for.
The band’s sound pretty much revolves around zydeco staples accordion and melodeon, both played by Cyril Yeterian. They never sound like The Rolling Stones, but there’s something intangibly “Stonesy” in the way the instruments bob and weave around each other like two drunks dancing on a bar-room floor. As pitch-perfect as the ragged-but-right musicianship is, it’s Collins’ vocal performance that impresses the most. I’ve always enjoyed his cool deadpan singing style, but here, with the volume stripped back, his voice has a real emotional impact I’ve never heard before. He shows off his talent for strong character-driven narratives on tracks like “Bad Luck Joe” and “One Thing at A Time”, and unveils a unexpectedly tender falsetto on the absolutely stunning “Girl De Hong Kong”. Mostly though, Subway Zydeco just sounds like great fun – you want to hear this kind of music at your local bar. Preferably tonight.