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Voodelic: Doing the Voodoo Unto You by Crispin Kott

The problem with writing about a band like Voodelic is that it’s impossible to nail down what they are. So varied and lush are the elements that make up the music of the Palenville-based five-piece that I could try to explain it all in some pithy way, and it would still tell only part of the story.

Let’s say, just as an exercise, you’re in a restaurant. It’s a spot you’ve heard great things about, but you’re there for the first time, and you want to try something you’ve never had before, so you’re sitting before a bowl of murky stew, its aroma an intoxicating blend of local and exotic flavors. Within that bowl are delights so rich, your taste buds are dancing their asses off. Would you rather enjoy every savory bite for what it is, or try and deduce which ingredients the chef combined to make it all so goddamned delicious?

Truth is, even the members of Voodelic—five men of disparate origins, but of one singular and glorious musical purpose—aren’t sure what to call themselves. You can’t blame them really, because what they hear and what you hear may well be a thing of power and beauty, but maybe that doesn’t mean the same thing to any of us.

Bass guitarist Colin Almquist, a local boy, says Voodelic plays “swampy, psychedelic funk rock.”

Okay, maybe that’s on the right track. But then vocalist Earl Lundy mentions R&B, gospel and riff-heavy stoner rock, and sure, that’s in there, too. Even on a good day labeling music is a fool’s game. With a band like Voodelic, whose music is best experienced with all the senses firing at once, the intellectual pursuit of nailing down just what’s happening isn’t the point anyway. Voodelic will send shivers up and down your spine, and that means a whole lot more than trying to figure out how to label their music on your iPod.

And with their new album, Conjure, about to drop, maybe it would be better if you listened for yourself, anyway. Like that soup that’s still tingling your tongue, Conjure is a curious monster, one with a backstory nearly as convoluted as that of the band itself.

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A five-year endeavor, Conjure used numerous studios in one way or another, and saw the band’s roster itself undergo changes that might cripple a lesser collective. But as we’ve already established, Voodelic is something altogether different.

It begins with Lundy, who goes by “little earl” when in Voodelic mode. Growing up in Mississippi, little earl made his way to Manhattan in his early twenties, but not before laying waste to the Deep South with his band, Bonnington Truce.

“Punk was already dead, but we didn’t know that, we didn’t care,” little earl said. “We still got in trouble for looking and sounding like we did. And being in a band from Mississippi, I still sounded like a blues singer doing punk.”

Those elements are still in little earl’s voice, a powerful enough instrument that the hairs on the back of your neck aren’t just standing, they’re dancing, threatening to pull themselves directly from the root.

After taking time off from music, little earl found his way back again thanks to the rhythm section of Spin Cycle Lava, a progressive rock band who happened to play in his store, the Green Cow. Almquist and drummer Dan Cartwright may have already been pre-occupied with their own band, but little earl saw the future in their present.

“When I first saw Colin and Danny play together, I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to take these guys,’” he said. “I didn’t have a band, and I hadn’t played live in years and years, but I thought, ‘I have to have that.’”

Your favorite band has that indefinable mojo, and whether you know it or not, it all comes back to the rhythm section. If the bass and drums are working as one through some primal connection, you might not even know it’s happening. But with Almquist and Cartwright, it’s happening all right, in a big way.

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As 2003 became 2004, the disparate pieces began to come together. It happened at the Fernwood in Palenville on a night steeped in magic and music.

“I don’t think we had a name at that point,” said Almquist. “But it was kind of a snowball effect.”

While the band was quick to find their rhythm, it took the arrival of another vagabond southerner to give little earl the inspiration to bring his own gospel and R&B influences fully to the fore.

Though Ross Rice technically grew up in New Hampshire, it was a move to Memphis during his high school days that saw the keyboardist come into his own.

“I was originally a drummer,” Rice said. “I pretty much am still a drummer, I just beat on the keyboard instead of the drum.”

With a full Memphis music experience that included a house gig at the Peabody Hotel with Stax Records legend Donald “Duck” Dunn, Rice found himself working with everyone from Albert King to Steve Cropper, Rufus Thomas to Peter Frampton. And somewhere in there, he also found the time to sign to a major label (Columbia) with Human Radio, a band who hit the charts with “Me and Elvis.”

Like little earl, Rice eventually found his way to the Hudson Valley, settling in Rosendale and becoming something of a hired musical gun. Somewhere along the way, he became part of the Voodelic scene.

“I met earl with his striped pants,” Rice said. “He was from the South, and I could relate to him.” With zero rehearsal, Rice filled in on a gig at Miss Lucy’s in Saugerties, and a missing piece clicked into place.

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little earl said Rice’s value to Voodelic includes something more intangible than his contributions on keyboards and vocals.

“Ross, because of his experience in Memphis and Nashville, his chops have developed around gospel and R&B, and it’s a really natural combination for me,” little earl said. “I can kind of go someplace, and he follows me, or vice-versa.”

Rice agreed, noting that the differences in heritage and age provide Voodelic with some indefinable mix that makes the whole far greater than its parts might be under different circumstances.

“I think it comes down to a Mason/Dixon deal, and an old and young thing as well,” Rice said. “It’s two more grizzled southerners coming together with two young Northerners. They’re straight up New York boys.”

“What earl and I want from them is youth,” Rice said. “They’re enthusiastic about playing music. With those guys, they bring a real fresh attitude. There’s a bit of a collision, but it’s harmonious, too. We’re stunningly harmonious when we get things going.”

Rounding out Voodelic is another local boy, Cartwright’s brother Eric on guitar. A recent convert to the scene, Eric Cartwright is one of five guitarists on an album that somehow manages to combine elements of recordings from as far back as 2005 with more recent studio takes. little earl re-recorded all his vocals, in part because he wanted to ensure where the band was now was where he was coming from.

Whether in spite of or because of all the changes along the way, Conjure is a surprisingly cohesive affair, with all those influences coming together to form one splendid stew.

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“The album came out great,” said Rice. “It was a mess, just a mess trying to put this together. Six different studios, three different formats, five different guitar players over three and a half years. This is not a way to make a record.”

Almquist agreed, adding that it all feels exactly as it should in the end result. “Believe it or not, it sounds to me like it sounds like it belongs together,” he said. Listening to the gospel-tinged “Loveshine” or the riff-laden “Mississippi,” it’s hard to argue that point.

little earl describes the collective Voodelic experience thusly:

“It’s kind of like putting the pedal down in a car,” he said. “You accelerate and everybody knows you’re accelerating, and they either know something wonderful or terrible is about to happen. Let it flow, and let whatever happens happen.”

Voodelic will be at the Colony Café Sa 9/26 9 PM, and at Revolution Hall, Troy Tu 10/6 10 PM. Visit www.myspace.com/voodelic for more.



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