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Music Review: The Gypsy Nomads – Happy Madness

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The New York-based band The Gypsy Nomads are aptly named—their music roams through various genres, from folk to Celtic to punk to French cabaret. Since forming the group in 2005, duo Samantha Stephenson and Scott Helland have built a following due to their numerous lively performances at music festivals. Their fourth album, Happy Madness, contains songs that illustrate why their fans have dubbed them "Frenchy and the Punk."

French-born Stephenson, percussionist and lead singer, possesses a blunt, almost sarcastic vocal style similar to Patty Donahue of the '80s band The Waitresses. This style serves her well on cuts such as "Yes! I'm French," with her singing humorous lyrics such as "Yes, I'm French, don't hold it against me!" She also adds a touch of Gwen Stefani on "Extra Extra," the acoustic guitar providing a strong rhythm and a violin lending a Middle Eastern flair to the track.

The Gypsy Nomads, photo by Frank SicilianoHelland hails from a punk background, having played bass with hardcore punk bands Deep Wound (which also included future members of Dinosaur Jr.) and Outpatients. He applies this experience to tracks such as "Dark Carnivale," its crunching guitars providing a dark, creepy atmosphere to surround Stephenson's voice. "Vitame Vas" suggests gypsy music as played by the Ramones, with Stephenson narrating the story of Hansel and Gretel. Folk pervades "It's OK," with Stephenson's exotic drumming taking center stage.

"Twisted cabaret" may best describes cuts such as "House of Cards," which Stephenson sings with a French accent. But the heavy beat suggests a rock edge, contrasting with the smooth vocals. The instrumental "Sombrero Cabaret" departs from this cabaret sound by including Spanish accents, with a beat that a flamenco dancer could easily move to. Even love songs take on a creepy air with "Marionette," a delicate ballad that invites the lover to "dress me up/pull my strings/just don't let me be."

In addition to the aforementioned influences, mystical elements pervade songs such as "Magician and the Dancer" and "Vaudeville Voodoo," the latter best capturing the duo's energy in playing their instruments, harmonizing, and constructing memorable choruses.

The Gypsy Nomads are known for their enthusiastic, theatrical performances, and Happy Madness only hints at what is probably interesting entertainment. The music defies easy categorization, as it rambles among numerous forms. The album's mystical elements may not appeal to every listener, and they wear a bit thin by the end. But one must give the Gypsy Nomads credit for attempting something different, fusing punk with old world music. Music fans wishing to escape the AutoTune-dominated scene may want to try Happy Madness for a very unusual experience and an audial trip around the globe.

For more information, visit the Gypsy Nomads' official site and MySpace Music page.

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About Kit O'Toole