If “Hey Everybody” doesn’t draw you into this album and bring a smile to your face, check your pulse. Some might dismiss this track as a throwaway, but that’s a superficial knee-jerk take on an obvious album opener brimming over with an affirmative spirit and inspired guitar playing. Bandleader and songwriter Ryan Shivdasani has a clear penchant for utilizing studio effects to enhance the atmospherics of the band’s recordings, but strip away the artifice from tunes like “Hey Everybody” and you still have musical gems capable of entertaining listeners in studio and live settings alike.
“The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina” is one of the more idiosyncratic musical and lyrical offerings included on Little King and the Salamander, no small accomplishment, but it isn’t so precious and far removed from the common listener’s experience that they will reject the tune. It has an unusual jazz influenced flair, but Shivdasani and his collaborators never overplay their hand in this regard and mix it with pop structures in a compelling way. The chorus is strong and has an abbreviated cascading effect that will stick with you after a single listen. There’s a strong cinematic texture defining the mid-tempo “White Light and Lullabies”, another song shaped in a big way by Shivdasani’s judicious use of effects, and he delivers one of the album’s best vocals with this track. The melancholy of his voice is well suited to the dark lyrics, but it isn’t a track wallowing in despair. The songwriting on this release is far too canny to ever be so crude.
“Particle Craze” is one of the cornerstone tracks on the band’s previous release Act 3 and included here in demo form. The Act 3 version has some musical elements absent from this earlier take on the track, but it is fully satisfying in this form as well and connects with listeners early. The unique lyrical imagery is something shared by all Merrymaker’s Orchestrina tracks and it testifies about the extent of Shivdasani’s songwriting skills that he can take unusual language and use it to fuel new takes on well-tested subjects for songs. “Together” has a rough and ready alternative rock take on another traditional songwriting subject, longing for a significant other, and the uptempo pace gains even more momentum thanks to the song’s uncluttered instrumental makeup.
The oddest points in the release come with the tracks “Jeepers Creepers” and “Definitely Not My Underwear”. The former track is sort of coffeehouse poetry gone mad with an unpredictable jazz infused backing capable of taking turns wherever it likes yet never losing the listener. It is quite unlike anything else included on Little King and the Salamander. The latter cut is a blast of psychedeliczed acid rock in the vein of early Pink Floyd or Hawkwind, but Shivdasani’s humor has a quality all its own that helps keep this distanced from imitation. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s Little King and the Salamander includes fourteen songs spanning a wide array of musical styles and never fails to hold listener’s attention.