Harry Belafonte and GAYNGS

Domestic Days & F*cked Up Nights; At Carnegie Hall & Relayted
by Andy Whorehall

When I think of Harry Belafonte I always think of Animal & drums. My first memory of the man known as the King of Calypso came from The Muppets tv show growing up.

Most people only know Harry Belafonte as the man behind a yelp that starts off as Dayyyyyyyo.  Meesa dayyyyyyo. Daylight come and me wanta goal home.  Many don’t know what an amazing performer, percussionist & vocalist he was;  a song and dance man. Other people know the midwestern indie rock supergroup known as GAYNGS to be Justin Vernon of Bon Iver’s side project-when it’s so much more than that.  I accidentally sat through a weekend work marathon involving these 2 records trading off repeat, full album listens.  This may sound like a mood shifting disaster but anyone that works in the creative professional world knows the importance of mood shifting music and the creative work flow.

I’d been searching for a way to write about both artists for awhile and often struggling to find common ground with both individual recordings, At Carnegie Hall and Relayted.  Clearly the answer was in the music itself but I failed for weeks often paying attention to the obvious;  Harry Belafonte & Justin Vernon’s vocals.  Two mesmerizing instruments that command a recording while often overshadowing everyone else performing.  The former being the classic master painter and the younger an apprentice willing to mix colors wildly like his master but without restraint yet.  Both artists and records are similar in ideas than you’d think but no thinking is required, just enjoyment. The genre blending between these two records are universally multi-cultural despite a 51 year gap.

width=300At Carnegie Hall touches on every thing a pop star used to be counted on to do, entertain and educate.  Traditional songs like Danny Boy & Shenandoah have been covered by many artists but rarely do they have this amount of emotion- and live.  Listening to Carnegie Hall puts you in the audience, awed by Belafonte’s beautifully bellowing lead vocal. A standard 5 piece band backed by a 40+ member symphony rounds out the support.  The performances dabble in folk and world music covering Belafonte at his commercially popular peak in 1959.  The King of Calypso, as he was crowned, covers all genres with a voice that often overshadows the symphony and band.

‘Relayted’ offers something similar with regards to genre mixing and performers involved,  70s acid jazz rock meets the 80s r&b with bizarro vocal and overall mix tricks. Add in indie’s funky-punk-mindset and digital technology you’d think all these ideas add up to something pretentious to listen to.  Far from it.  The performances are held together by Ryan Olsen’s production and Justin Vernon’s mix.  11 songs spread out evenly between 23 estimated members from various midwestern outfits located between Wisconsin and Minnesota.



Belafonte ‘At Carnegie Hall’ is unlike most live records you’ll sit through.  It’s memorable in ways that’s left me questioning the stature of what’s considered a classic live album;  Cheap Trick’s ‘Budokan,’  The Who’s ‘Leeds’ and any Phish fans’ favorite Halloween show they spew about becomes grayscaled / colorless listening. The childish playfulness in Mama Look A Boo Boo and many other joyous sing alongs here are for anyone to enjoy without irony, some come with an education; The Banana Song, John Henry and Cucurrucucu Panoma. Belafonte At Carnegie Hall should be studied by classic pop purists as a touchstone for live, pop performance recordings.

Let’s interrupt this article for something sinister to listen to.  GAYNGS performing Sade’s By Your Side live.  Justin Vernon’s vocal es soul sexy. Stick around for the ‘Kenny G’ solo.

Download the MP3 version of By Your Side recorded for Daytrotter.com
, this song is not available on Relayted. {Click here to grab the entire 4 Song session.}
Now back to our regular programming.

width=300GAYNGS’ Relayted on the other hand is not live before a live listening audience. It’s sinister and sexy.  If sex in space had a soundtrack, this is it.  If extra-marital affairs were awesome, this would be the soundtrack.  If Holiday Inn rooms came with a jukebox with 1 record in it, this is it.  If space sex between extra-marital activists disguised as aliens were shacking up at a Holiday Inn (in space of course) needed 1 desert island record to get some to- this is it.

More than likely though GAYNGS’ Relayted  is the sound of Wisconsin and Minnesota’s music scene procreating sounds at the top of their games and having a baby after an all-night orgy they somehow managed to fit into their schedules.  That musical orgy is alluded to in the album’s inside artwork as well, a foldout poster of most of the project’s members in a giant wooden jacuzzi by Michael Gaughan.  Central to the project is the producer/songwriter, Ryan Olsen, who manages to steer contributions from various members of Bon Iver, Megafaun, Rosebuds, Solid Gold, Doomtree and many more to form a soulful supergroup that is less about indie rock irony and more about the moment they’re fortunate enough to share together right now.



It’s not always a pleasant comfortable listen due to the size of the project, often resorting to a  ‘Bitches Brew’ or better yet, Miles Davis’ Get Up With It meets an 80s Kenny G in the alley for something perverse and dirty. I’m assuming that this is its creators intentions. Justin Vernon works wonders handling the overall mix, tying together various song fragments and performances to make something out of nothing in most cases.  There should be no wonder from the get go with opening track Gaudy Side of Town what you’re in for; atmospheric, spliced, dark, funky, sexy music for a nighttime ride or pre-naked ruse.  Godley & Creme gets covered early on with their 80s pop hit, Cry, and honorably the most complete pop ‘song’ here representing composers and multi-instrumentalists of similar genre-mixing musical backgrounds.  It takes awhile to get to a few of the album’s payoffs, the final trio; Faded High, Ride and The Last Prom on Earth.  It’s worth your time and the wait though; Relayted has more than enough accidental moments to enjoy repeat listens to.

Start your day, round up the kids, sing along to Carnegie and clean the house or play up the Playdoh. Shove the kids off to a sitter, shower at sundown and wait for your husband, wife or other lovers to come over.  Have a few drinks, take off your clothes and get Relayted.  To those with domestic days and f*cked up nights, listen and repeat. BELAFONTE & GAYNGS.


Harry Belafonte and GAYNGSAndy Whorehall