Church of Betty Celebrates 25 Years with New Record SWIRLED WORLD, Videos, and Shows at The Living Room

By: Jul. 27, 2015

There are few bands that have been as tenaciously creative, exploratory, eclectic and inclusive as Church of Betty. On Swirled World, their new release, produced by Two-time Independent Music Awards Winner Kenny Siegal (Langhorne Slim & The Law, Chris Whitley, Spottiswoode & His Enemies), frontman Chris Rael's ever-evolving musical palette effortlessly crosses genres (world, rock, pop, folk, classical) and is as fertile and explosive as ever. Rael is at the top of his game as vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.

This all blooms and booms in the opening track "Wake Up" with the use of a Bulgarian melody adapted for sitar, bowed strings and bassoon, all swirling 'round in 7/8 time. "When it finally came together the band felt like we'd been exploring a jungle en route to our destination," Rael explains.

With Rael's groundbreaking sitar-playing paving the path for the band's intrepid fellow explorers, he takes the next track "Ever Deeper". Chris at first hesitated placing this song in the number two spot, but declared "I'm as proud of 'Ever Deeper' compositionally as anything I've ever written. The lyric is very personal and the overall strangeness of the track is something I would have buried deeper in the song sequence in the past.... It felt great to put it up front and share my truest self."

Wherever or however the groove grooves on Swirled World, there are a few constants: the first being how the sound revolves around Rael's innovative approach to the sitar and 12-string guitar, which he uses as a vessel for more pop/rock-centric songs and vocals. Next is the crack band of New York veterans bringing the sound to life, including downtown NYC guitar legend Chris Cochrane, world music violinist extraordinaire Rima Fand, progressive rock violist Pinky Weitzman, free jazz bassoonist Claire de Brunner, multi-instrumentalist Marlon Cherry, power drummer Brian Geltner, eclectic cellist Isabel Castellvi, versatile percussionist Otto Hauser, and Bulgarian vocal sorceress Vlada Tomova.

Another constant of Church of Betty: Expect the unexpected, with surprising (but surprisingly natural) meetings of styles and ideas at every turn. For example, "I Remember You" which "possibly contains the first meeting of sitar and swamp music in recorded history" joked Chris. The catchy sitar melody was "originally written for Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow, so I was really aiming for a pop epiphany."

Other highlights from Swirled World include "Endure", inspired by Muslim North African percussion that morphed into an intimate ode of compassion for a close friend battling chronic depression, and the exquisite "Muse", based on an Ethiopian rhythm that is then transported through Rael's inventive time signature tunnel.

Two songs besides the title track truly capture the band's effusive and inclusive musical mission statement, one they have shared with the world for twenty-five years with no sign of slowing down: "Brooklyn Soul" infused with a Walt Whitman-esque love of the borough and "Paella", a Middle Eastern-infused tune celebrating a friend of Rael's annual paella parties at Rockaway Beach, with the paella dish becoming a metaphor for a myriad of people coming together for a joyous, rich, multi-ingredient communal event.

No matter what dish Swirled World serves up, the album is a feast for the ears and a balm for the soul.


SATURDAY 9/12: 8:00 PM CHURCH OF BETTY & PUGWASH (9 PM) at The Living Room


TIX: $13.00 in advance/$15.00 at door

134 Metropolitan Avenue,

Brooklyn, NY 11249 (718) 782-6600


"Endure" video was created by the photographer and filmmaker Jasmine Hirst:

"Brooklyn Soul" video by Chris Rael:

Three other videos are currently in the pipeline and will be released over the next number of months: "Paella" is being created by Steve Zehentner, "I Remember You" by Joan Grossman and "Wake Up" by Eric Wallach.

Fusing American pop with Indian classical music, raja-rock combo Church of Betty is the brainchild of New York-based multi-instrumentalist Chris Rael, whose growing interest in global music traditions prompted him to travel to the Far East in 1988. The field recordings he made in India and Nepal ultimately made their way into his earliest Church of Betty efforts, which also incorporated strong elements of Himalayan folk after 1989's debut CD West of the East appeared on Rael's own Fang Records imprint, which subsequently launched artists including the Mommyheads, 101 Crustaceans, and Oren Bloedow on its way to emerging as one of the premier, downtown N.Y.C. labels of the period. In 1991 Rael returned to India to study Hindustani classical singing under music scholar Dr. B.V. Patekar and sitar under Ravindra Goswami; returning stateside two years later he re-formed Church of Betty, recruiting bassist Joe Quigley and drummer Jonathan Feinberg for 1993'sKashi, followed the next year by In Search of Spiritual Junkfood. After teaming with members of the rock band Hunk in the trio the Hand, Rael next recorded in collaboration with ghazal singer Najma; their 1996 CD, Forbidden Kiss, offered westernized renditions of songs from Hindi film composer S.D. Burman. He re-formed Church ofBetty with tabla master Deep Singh for 1998's Comedy of Animals. Fruit on the Vine appeared a year later. Tripping With Wanda (2002) included the group's most popular song, "Cross of Gold." All Music Guideraved: "If otherworldly rock exists, surely this is as lofty as it gets. A rich, brimming, brilliant record." The last Betty album before Swirled World was 2003's Revenge of the Hippies. Rael went on to become an award-winning film and theatre composer (Outfest Film Festival 2005 and New York International Fringe Festival 2011 for his musical ARABY, based on James Joyce's Dubliners). Over the years he has worked with such luminaries as composer Elliott Sharp; Annabella Lwin of Bow Wow Wow, Curt Smith of Tears for Fears, Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, Stew of Passing Strange, John Kelly, and Frank London of the Klezmatics, punk rock legend Jayne County, pop visionary David Byrne as well as numerous indie bands including Life in a Blender and Johnny Society.


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