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The Bands of the Big Apple
By Chris MacIntosh aka Grandfather Rock

Five years ago I would not have been able to write this story. The music scene in New York City was virtually nonexistent as far as artists who held to a Christian world view. Yet today there is a thriving and growing group of artists who call the "Big Apple" their home. I would like to take a few moments to introduce you to these kids who in a very real way have become a part of my family.

About three and a half years ago I wondered into the Mercury Lounge one weekday evening to catch a show by the Newsboys. The opening group was a local band called Mother Kirk, they impressed me enough that I asked the vocalist if I could get a copy of their album to play on my radio show. That singer's name was Mark Giacobbe and we exchanged information as is the custom. He then introduced me to his friend, a young guitarist named David Sacks who was part of a band called Stickman Jones. I didn't know it at the time but this chance encounter was to influence my musical tastes for quite awhile to come. The three of us talked about music for awhile and I went home that night not only with information on two new bands but also with two new friends. By the way the Newsboys set was ok too. About a week later I received a copy of Mark's album as well as Blinding Bright by Stickman Jones. There are certain bands that it will take me awhile to grow fond of, then there are others where it is love at first sight. Well you know what I mean. Because of schedule differences it took me about three months before I was actually able to catch a Stickman show, but when I did I was totally hooked. After seeing them a number of times and getting to know the members of the band I knew I had a new favorite group. One night at the Bitter End I asked Jad Mintun, the bass player, if there were any other local acts that I should be aware of. Without missing a beat he said, "You need to meet and hear our friend Sarah Lentz, she's great. I'll have her send you a disc". And so it was that I was introduced to the music of the artist that defines everything that is cool about the independent music scene in New York City.

About that same time I was browsing the Vigilantes web site and saw that they were playing at a school in Connecticut with a NY based band called Spinoza opening for them. Being the total weasel that most disc jockeys are, I called Spinoza's manager to see if I could get a copy of their disc to play on my radio show to help promote the concert. What I got in the mail a few days later was a musical breath of fresh air which I still imbibe regularly. A little over two years ago a young couple, Brian and Jen Milner, from All Angels Episcopal Church felt the need to open up a coffee house type venue where people could come and hear the best indie artists around. They have done just that. On a monthly basis All Angel's Cafe is the place to be to hear such artists as Over the Rhine, Bill Mallonee, Pierce Pettis and Brooks Williams, as well as the best of New York's indie acts. It was through this venue that I was turned onto a young woman, Deanna Witkowski, who is one of the absolute hottest jazz pianists that I have ever heard. Now I'm talking about some serious jazz playing ala Thelonius Monk, not the sterilized junk that you are likely to hear in an elevator or a dentist office. Another new find is the brainchild of musician Todd Dorman, they go by the name of Dorman and are one of the most exiting new bands that I have heard in quite a while. It was through Stickman Jones and All Angels that I was introduced to a young modern rock band that goes by the name of Leisure. All of these acts are top notch and deserve a lot wider exposure then they currently have. They also all have recently released albums of new material that I want to take a brief look at.

Let's start with the guy who started this whole thing, Mark Giacobbe. Mark's newest release is called Spin and is a brilliant album of acoustic driven guitar music with tunes that stay with the listener for days afterward. He is a exceptional singer songwriter as well as an accomplished producer. Mark is currently preparing to leave in the fall for Afghanistan for an extended missions trip. The current project to come out of the Stickman Jones camp is a solo release from vocalist Annie Quick entitled Orange Juice. This new release from the voice of Stickman explores new territory both thematically and musically.  Accompanying her on this journey are David Sacks, Jad Mintun and new Stickman drummer, Jesse Sprinkle among others. For those familiar with past work by the band this new album is a welcome addition to their collection of music.

The new album by songstress Sarah Lentz is called _Everything's All Right_ and is her sophomore release. Featuring her prowess on vocals, piano and backed by an able group of players this one is not as quite as dark as her debut. Yet Sarah's world is still a very realistic look at hurting and broken people who can see a light at the end of the tunnel. The overall feel to this project is one of hope amidst the despair of everyday life. Gee it almost sounds as if someone has fallen in love and is about to get married. What can I say about "The Inevitable Movement Onward' by Spinoza. This is one of the best releases of the current year. With great writing, playing and harmonies that McGuinn and Crosby used to pray for, Lee Kizer the 3rd and Reid Maclean are hands down one of the best groups that I have heard in this year or any other for that matter.  This is a band that is definitely worthy of a road trip. 

Todd Dorman's current ensemble simply goes by the name Dorman and their debut project is called When I Come To You. Featuring the 5 string bass of Thane Sheetz, the percussive sensibilities of Sean Dolan and the magic pink electric violin of the rock goddess named Elise Kuder. This collection of tunes almost defies description but could be called intelligent progressive pop. 

Leisure's debut ep is called Occasional Music 5.0. It is ethereal moody modern rock that transcends the stratosphere to bring the listener to a very special place. They are getting ready to record their second album with Jesse Sprinkle at the helm. Whether it be the Deanna Witkowski Quartet or the Trio, this young woman has reawakened my love affair with jazz. As I said earlier, I am not talking about smooth jazz as if that really even existed. This is stuff that John Coltrane would love to hear. This girl is the real deal! Well this is truly New York's finest and here is where you can check them out.


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