The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina – Little King and the Salamander (LP)
Little King and the Salamander begins with the song “Hey Everybody”, a rousing near-instrumental performance whose only vocals consist of random words and scat singing that works exceptionally well and never leaves you pining for a more conventional lyric. The real highlight for me about this song is Ryan Shivdasani’s lead guitar work – it’s the spark that sets a sub-two minute long song on fire and makes it play like something much more than a brief number. The eclectic musical DNA bringing this project to life reasserts itself with the song “The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina”, but you can still hear much of the same inspired energy present with the aforementioned cut, though it presents itself in a much different, idiosyncratic fashion. Shivdasani’s guitar playing is more than capable of copping a strident rock feel, but he impressively shapes his sound to the needs of specific songs, a talent amply demonstrated on “Particle Craze”, one of the best numbers on the band’s recent Act 3. The song isn’t much different in demo form, maybe a little less reliant on effects, and the chiming guitar chords running through the track provide it with much of its gravitas.
“She’ll Do Anything” and “I’ll Be (Kisses at Your Door)” are the album’s first conclusive stabs in an acoustic direction. It’s a form Act 3 already illustrated Shivdasani’s comfort and facility with, but these two songs are further illustrative of his lyrical sophistication and the artful way he merges solid writing with evocative musical landscapes without ceding balance to any one element. We’re thrust back into his more experimental leanings with the duo “Jeepers Creepers” and “Definitely Not My Underwear” and the first demonstrates the soft-pedaled underlying menace powering some of the project’s darker cuts while the second of those songs mixes humor with art rock posturing and a near ambient musical arrangement.
“Slip Away”, one of Act 3’s best numbers, is a stand out even in demo form and the gentle lyrical roll of both his vocals and the guitar work makes this a melodic oasis of sorts. It’s impossible to not admire, a lot, the nearly effortless manner characterizing his movements from one genre to the next while still making every song sound like a product from the same creative sensibility. “Thinking About You”, as well, hits an acoustic vibe from the outset, but it’s a much more straight-ahead, conventional attack he assumes here and proves to be another welcome shift in gears for a release never content to dawdle in one place for long.
The last song, “I Have Always Been Here”, is a summing up of a sort that never announces itself as such. We hear a little bit of everything Shivdasani does with this song – the acoustic singer/songwriter, the art rocker, the guitar heroics, we hear them all, sometimes a smattering, sometimes in abundance. You often hear it said about singer/songwriters and musicians, but it’s true here – there doesn’t seem to be a thing Shivdasani and his collaborators can’t pull off. There’s something for everyone on this release, like Act 3, and the release further positions Shivdasani as one of the best musical artists working the indie scene today.