Pictured above we see my lovely friend Ivy posing with a board game called The Crazy Cat Lady Game. Said game is yet another genius item we found at Greystone Gardens during Berkshires Adventure Weekend 2012. We do not know the exact rules of the game, but we are pretty sure that possession of at least a dozen cats is a prerequisite.
A perfect – wait, make that ideal – live music experience, for me, includes a few personal preferences such as a venue close to my home that offers seating, reasonably priced drinks and maybe a menu of snacks that won’t break the bank when added to the price of the ticket. It’s a lot to ask, I know, but that is how I roll. Of course, it’s a given that the band on the bill has great songs and is able to reasonably replicate its recorded sound in a live forum while also improvising and “riffing” freely enough to add a personal vibe to the performance. On a recent Saturday night in the East Village, that perfect storm of a concert experience happened at Drom Lounge on Avenue A when psychedelic folk rock band, The Wyld Olde Souls, celebrated the release of its new CD, Ensoulment. It was an evening I won’t soon forget.
Ten years in the making, Ensoulment includes fourteen songs (13 originals and one cover) that prove the long wait for this album was well worth it. Often compared to acts like Fairport Convention, Joan Baez and Donovan, The Wyld Olde Souls are perhaps NYC’s best-kept secret. Fronted by lead vocalist/songwriter and guitarist Ivy Vale, The Wyld Olde Souls includes Vale’s husband Rick Reil (vocals/guitar/sitar), Kristin Pinell Reil (vocals/guitar/flute) – the former both members of the legendary Grip Weeds — vocalist Melissa Davis and tabla player Naren Budhakar, who is such a perfect addition to the band for his ability to really capture the middle eastern spirituality inherent in its music. The band’s lyrics are often romantic and whimsical, offering a welcome respite from the angst and anger in much of today’s pop music, while the lush, layered instrumentation on the album – which includes flute, orchestral strings and mellotron – solidifies The Wyld Olde Souls as a band that expertly takes the act of homage into the realm of a truly unique, original sound.
At Drom, the band opened the show with “Give it to You,” the second track off Ensoulment and proceeded to hold its audience in thrall for the remainder of the tight, 13 song set. Although the band performed in an almost “unplugged” setting (save for Pinell and Reil’s guitars) every song sounded amazing. In addition to Vale’s rich, resonant vocals, Davis’s mellifluous backing vocals create a transcendent aural experience against the Souls’ spot on instrumentation (Rick Reil and Kristin Pinell also handle lead vocals on select songs). The set included many songs from Ensoulment including “Take Me There,” “Undertow” and “Maybe” but also featured a little known George Harrison song, the chant “Gopala Krishna,” which the Souls also performed at George’s Birthday Tribute show (featuring headliner Roberta Flack) this past winter.
Band members joked with each other and the capacity audience while telling stories about their music and influences between songs, which kept the crowd engaged and anticipating what might come next. A few of my favorites included “Love Song” and “Wyld Maiden” as well as the instrumental “Love in Transition” and an Improvised Raga that showcased Budhakar’s expert tabla playing. As the performance came to a close with “Where There is Light” and “Sun God” (a track from the band’s debut CD) I felt very fortunate to have been part of such a fun and entertaining live gig. Ensoulment is already in the running for a top spot in my year-end Top Ten CDs of 2011, and I recommend you pick up a copy either via CD Baby or as an MP3 Download at Amazon.com. The band does not perform live very often but you can friend them on FaceBook to be kept in the loop about future live dates.
One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2011 is to enjoy the company of good friends while dining in fine restaurants as often as possible. No one can accuse me of not sticking to my resolutions, because last night I had an amazing meal at chef Jonathan Waxman’s Barbuto Restaurant on Washington Street near the Meatpacking District. My dining companions were my longtime friend Ivy, her charming husband Rick and their adorable daughter Violet, who is the best kid you could ever hope to have, let me tell you. We’re all huge fans of Bravo’s Top Chef, and having enjoyed the most recent season of Top Chef Masters we are also admirers of Waxman’s “keep it simple” philosophy/approach to gourmet cooking. Dining out is always so much more fun, and a much richer experience, when you are accompanied by true foodies like Ivy, Rick and Violet. We had an amazing meal and a really fantastic time catching up.
When we were seated, Violet asked our server if Chef Waxman was in the restaurant that evening. She replied that he had been there earlier that afternoon, but had left to run some errands, though he might be back later. Less than five minutes passed before she returned to our table saying that the chef had come back into the restaurant and would we like to meet him? Of course, we enthusiastically confirmed that we would. Because celebrity chefs are the new Rock Stars. After our meal, Chef Waxman came over to our table, dressed casually in his signature pink polo shirt and khakis and looking very adorable. He spoke to us for several minutes and answered some of our questions about the time he spent as a contestant on Top Chef Masters. He was super cool and friendly and also very, very cute! Jonathan Waxman!
Here are some of foods we enjoyed eating:
Soft polenta with lamb ragu
Bruschetta with chickpeas and fresh mushrooms
Smoked trout salad with frise, black rice and orange (amazing!)
Barbuto’s signature roast chicken with salsa Verde
Scallops, which were delicious but I’m not sure how they were cooked
Homemade Gnocchi with walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese
Roasted Brussels sprouts with hazelnuts, to die for
Crispy fried potatoes with pecorino cheese
Two bottles of amazing red wine, which by the time I was on my third glass I could not tell you what variety it was. (Rick would know.)
Lemon Crema with coconut crisps
Chocolate pudding with whipped creme and biscotti
Two kinds of Gelato: toasted pistachio and maple cinnamon
Barbuto’s menu changes seasonally, so you never know what delicious creations Chef Waxman will be serving up. You can only rest assured that whatever you put in your mouth will blow your mind. Be prepared to throw down some serious cash, but to feel that it was totally worth it.
Barbuto is located at 775 Washington Street New York, NY 10014 @ West 12th Street. Phone 212-924-9700 for Reservations.