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CD Review: Happy Madness

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The Gypsy Nomads, Happy Madness, 2010, E. A. Recordings.
  • The Gypsy Nomads, Happy Madness, 2010, E. A. Recordings.

When wizened punks and august hippies gather around campfires to reminisce in the Joe Strummer documentary The Future Is Unwritten, the orange halflight illuminates the striking similarities in their views, their histories, and even their physicality. In that same natural glow we find New Paltz gypsy-cabaret-folk-punk duo the Gypsy Nomads, whose new release, Happy Madness, percolates with stripped-down DIY energy, tribal rhythms, and earthy drama. Samantha Stephenson and Scott Helland—aka Frenchy and the Punk—are accomplished performing vets; she of the visual arts and dance, he of metal and punk bands.

In languages that veer from French to Czech to English, Happy Madness offers waltz-time chansons of yearning, intrigue and loss ("Magician and the Dancer," "Marionette"), hypnotically pummeling manifestos of life in the fecund substrata of neo-paganism ("It's OK," "Dark Carnivale"), and modal instrumentals that somehow evoke CBGB, Ennio Morricone, and the Port of Marseille ("Happy Madness," "Sombrero Cabaret"). This and more is delivered mostly with acoustic guitar, mallet-pounded drums, hand-held percussion, and cinematic, funny, deftly political, and erotic lyrics. Stephenson's autobiographical "Yes! I'm French" offers the witty line "When those jokers served up freedom fries / I saw Lady Liberty rolling her eyes," while the sexy romp "Make Out" is a brazen celebration of parking lot intimacy in which one can almost smell motor oil and Aqua Net. The Gypsy Nomads' melding of ancient archetypes with scrappy street-level attitude makes Happy Madness a lively must-have for punks, hippies, and everyone inbetween. www.thegypsynomads.com.

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