The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina – Act 3
“Together”, the opener for The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina Act 3, is an outstanding way to kick off an album where there’s literally something for everyone. Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Ryan Shivdasani has served himself and his songs extraordinarily well by hooking up with the rhythm section of drummer Danny Wolf and bass player Jack Redford. They are key to the success of many songs we hear on Act 3 and “Together” is one of the best examples. “Particle Craze”, the album’s first single, has an accompanying video and even a cursory listen to the track reveals why. It’s one of the many colorful, virtually cinematic, tracks included on the album and certainly shows off Shivdasani’s avowed psychedelic influences. There are instances later on during this release where Shivdasani’s guitar playing gets a turn in the spotlight, but it’s impressive how the bulk of the album shows him serving the song first and foremost with the six string used in a more orchestral role.
“Watched You Out My Window” is one of the best written tunes on Act 3 and elicits an emotive vocal from Shivdasani. The structure of the song is one of its chief attractions; there’s a certain amount of delicious predictability in this track. You can often sense where Shivdasani’s musical ideas are going in this song, but it doesn’t dampen the experience. Instead, the joy is hearing how creative he is at arriving there. “East of Eden” is, for the most part, a solid alternative rock track, albeit never as obvious as lesser practitioners of the style. Shivdasani’s singing is supported well by some strong, unobtrusive backing vocals and he unleashes some fiery lead guitar work during the song’s second half that ratchets up the intensity. There’s some pulse racing New York City energy making “Cowboys and Indians” pop from the outset and much of it can be pinned on the outstanding rhythm section work from Redford and Wolf. Like many cuts on Act 3, “Cowboys and Indians” doesn’t waste the listener’s time with pointless instrumental excursions and has a strong, direct chorus.
“Enemy” is one of the songwriting centerpieces on the album and boasts some of the aforementioned strengths. The repetitions in the lyric drive home the subject matter and Shivdasani’s vocal underplays the song’s menace quite well. His guitar work, as well, rates among his finest moments on the album. One of the album’s gentler moments arrives with the song “Slip Away” and dispenses with the production effects characterizing Shivdasani’s vocals throughout much of the release. Instead, he tempers the theatrical qualities of his singing on those other songs in favor of a direct, cleanly recording singing performance that’s deeply affecting. One of the more musically interesting tunes on the album comes with the track “There’s No Such Thing as God”, but if you are expecting some blast of atheistic post-punk rage, you’ll be disappointed. The style of the tune alternates between art funk during the verses and alternative rock energy with the chorus, yet these seemingly disparate sounds seamlessly weave with one another.
The album’s concluding tandem of “Blood Country” and “Wait Behind” provide a striking contrast with each other. The first of the two songs, “Blood Country”, surpasses the earlier “Enemy” in terms of an uncompromising lyrical approach and Shivdasani’s vocal brings us up close to the song without ever making the experience unpleasant for listeners. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina ends Act 3 with the soft, non-confrontational singer/songwriter style of “Wait Behind” and it brings the album to a close in a way akin to a leaf wafting gently to the earth below. The track listing for this album is superb and it’s difficult to conceive how Shivdasani could have ended the album better. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina may be guided by his songwriting, but they emerge from this album as a full-fledged band rather than a glorified vehicle for his songwriting ambitions.