Back in LIC – excited by the prospects of a summer of music.

I’m just back from a few weeks overseas and am catching up on the local scene. A new feature in  Hunters Point is a little gallery known as 10-10 Studios, at 10-10, 47th Road at Vernon Boulevard ( Last night I was just passing and was invited in by the host, offered a glass of wine and was able to appreciate some  very fine photos by Micah Rubin (, in an exhibition called “Uncommon Threads” featuring scenes from South East Asia. The exhibition is short-lived (15-17th June) but I hope that this new artistic venue will continue to flourish.

I note, too, that the studio is hosting a fundraising event for Queens Jazz Overground ( this Saturday, 16th June from 7-11pm featuring music by:
Josh Deutsch/Nico Soffiato duo
Brian Woodruff Quartet with Hashem Assadullahi, Amanda Monaco, Mark Wade
Mike Baggetta Trio with Zack Lober, RJ Miller

A visitor from Finland

The LIC bar ( occasionally hosts overseas artists, however, to my knowledge Saara Markkanen ( is the first singer from Finland to appear at this respected venue in  Long Island City.

Saara Markkenen (photo courtesy of the artist)

Saara is a singer of rare individuality. Originally from Finland,  she moved to Berlin last year and is touring the US for the first time in June, with her first gig at the LIC Bar on Wednesday 20th June, at 7pm, following that with a tour along eastern USA, ending with an appearance at the Nebraska Pop Festival in Omaha.

Saara has a pure, often unworldly, voice and accompanies herself on the guitar in a self-taught style that can sometimes seems as if she’s playing a harp. Her music has a European folk quality that  at times conveys a kind of chilly innocence. Her language is Finnish so, except for those in her US audiences who are Finnish ex-pats, she will offer what she calls “creative ways ” of explaining her songs, most of which are in her native language. She is touring with cellist Elise Mélinand and a Canadian filmaker who is making a documentary of the the tour.

Unable to meet her in advance of the gig I interviewed Saara using a skype connection whilst she was in a cafe in Gothenburg, Sweden – (so the sound quality is variable).

Check this out by clicking on this link:

Saara Markkanen – interview plus two songs

You can catch more of her music on her website ( and on youtube.

Saara’s tour dates are:

20.6. L.I.C. Bar, Queens, New York
21.6. The Space/The Outer Space,Hamden,Connecticut
23.6. The Barking Dog location in College Park Maryland
24.6. Epicure Cafe in Fairfax Virginia.
25.6. The Garage, Charlottesville Virginia.
27.6. Deep South The Bar in Raleigh, North Carolina.
26.6. Bottega Art Bar & Gallery, Wilmington North Carolina.
28.6. Underbelly, Jacksonville, Florida.
29.6. Dada, Delray Beach Florida.
30.6. Tallahassee Florida.
3.7. Neutral Ground Coffeehouse, New Orleans.
4.7. Artmosphere in Lafayette Louisiana.
5.7. Hopkins ice house, Texarkana,Arkansas
11.7. Nebraska pop festival, Nebraska

New Album from Ryan Roger’s “Amateur Blonde”

Amateur Blonde is a band put together by LIC-based singer songwriter Ryan Roger O’Toole. (Take care if you google “Amateur Blonde”, you’ll get a lot of stuff that is, well, rather different from the well crafted music that this album demonstrates!)

Well known on the Queens and Brooklyn club and bar circuit, Ryan is an energetic collaborator with local music projects and it is not surprising that a band and an album have emerged that celebrate both collaboration and Ryan’s talent as a songwriter and performer.

Amateur Blonde’s first, self  titled, album has sought funding through a local  funding group which includes Gustavo Rodriguez and Brian Meece – “Rockethub” ( It credits 9 artists: Ryan himself (Voices, Guitars, Drums, Pianos, Organs & Omnichord); regular Drummer Jeff Gretz, bassist Peter Brendler and pedal steel Philip Sterk; plus drummers Seth Fragomen and Brendt Cole; bass players John Lang and Matthew O’Toole (Ryan’s brother, who also plays the family Dobro), with another LIC regular Anthony Rizzo (of Little Embers) – on Lead Guitar. Of course they don’t all play on all tracks, only Ryan does that, but the mix of players does reflect the mix of styles across the whole album. This is a self-produced album, recorded mainly by Ryan in his home studio, with some help with drum recording from Brian Speaker at Brooklyn Tea Party in Bushwick.

Some time ago, in fact in 1968, CBS released the first ever “sampler” album “The Rock Machine Turns You On” to an eager European market. Half the price of a standard LP the disc featured tracks from a range of in-house Columbia artists including Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Spirit, The Zombies and Tim Rose as well as classically named bands like the “Peanut Butter Conspiracy” and “Moby Grape”.

Amateur Blonde’s first album reminds me of this in its variety of songs and arrangements. Ryan does not stick to one genre and the album benefits from this. There is a real mid-Atlantic 60’s and 70s feel to Ryan’s music, yet this is not retro rock and some of the tracks, such as “Sobriquet” have an Indie feel, even if it quickly moves on to echoes of Lennon rocking New York City in the 1970s. Anthony Rizzo (Little Embers) in his only appearance on the album offers nice jagged guitar work against waves of over-dubbed and overdriven guitars and makes this song a great start to an album that developes nicely from track to track.

Scaffolding” moves away with a not-quite-twangy-enough Duane Eddy-type guitar intro that leads into a drum driven insistent beat and simple guitar riff.  Ryan’s half-hoarse vocals, together with his la-la chorus give us a song that moves like an Chevrolet convertible driving through dusty cities early on a sunday summer morning and heading for the coast.

There’s strong heavy rock too, “Chills” features roaring vocals and a thumping beats with Ryan screaming into the mic in a rough distorted style that has a live late night basement club feel, (even if it does revert to another Beatlesque ending).

“Just Obey”, has a real 60s “Doors” feel, check out this live performance:

“In a minute” is a dreamy atmospheric track in which the harmonised lyrics take center  stage, with the next song:  No Worries”, proving to be another,  winding, atmospheric track that grabs you in its circling harmonies with  a catchy intermittent ringing guitar riff that takes you down subtle passageways.

“Airplane Mode” is, for me, the least memorable song on what is a very good album indeed, it starts with a Coldplay – esq keyboard arpeggio riff that reappears during the track, with soaring wordless harmonies that makes me think that it would suit a video or movie, as it generates a feeling that might better accompanying images. Ryan is, in fact, a  film-maker so this  may well be an appropriate comment! (later comment – this track actually grows on you and improves with repeated listening).

“Waiting Place” has over- and undertones of Pink Floyd with Ryan self-harmonising against a smooth-running river of nicely arranged and recorded guitar, omnichord and pedal steel. “Novocaine” is an effective, memorable track with a catchy riff that takes you through nicely put together harmonies.

The final track “Leaving Time” is a kind of fairground fantasy, with New York as the fairground; boys in leather jackets hanging round subway entrances glancing at skirt through the rain and steaming streets. The excellent mix brings out the strumming omnichord in a ways that urge nostalgia for hot lazy days, and the kind of seaside teenage love affair that, for most, ended up as “Leaving Time”.

This is a really good album, with good songs, great arrangements and production. It’s also an interesting album, worthy of close listening – especially late at night when the party is winding down, with its rocking tracks giving way to a smoother, almost ambient vibe as the mist drifts over your eyes and your brain. I really like albums like this, there is always something unexpected as you move from track to track. I urge you to  buy it!

Catch some pre-release tracks on: watch out for availability online ( and at live shows.

Ryan Roger (photo courtesy of the artist)

Gigs to look forward to:

LIC Bar is hosting, on Monday June 25th, three bands that are worth turning up for early to catch a seat. Leah Gough-Copper’s “Human Equivalent”; “Whiskey Spillers” and Mercedes Figueras’  avante garde jazz group Black Butterflies. I have written before about Human Equivalent and Black Butterflies but I don’t think I’ve mentioned Whiskey Spillers (, a duo of Corey Lewis and Patrick Ryan (from “Animal Pharm” – I’m impressed by Corey Lewis, he sings intelligent songs in ways that defy pigeon-holing and with an energy that radiates from his, not especially slender, form.

Corey Lewis

LIC Bar now have regular outdoor events on Sunday afternoons, from 4 until 7, when the  doors of the Carriage House open to create a stage and appreciative drinkers can sit in the sunshine on what usually proves to be a feast of brilliant music.


Sometime in Long Island City can now be HEARD on podcasts, featuring material from the blog and also a new series of Artist Portraits in which Eric Hathaway talks to local musicians about their life and their music.

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or directly from Podbean:

First edition: “LIC Bar and the Queens of Queens“:

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Artist Portrait: Michele Riganese:

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Artist Portrait: Jeneen Terrana:

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Attist Portrait: Little Embers

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Artist Portraits in production include:

Shelly Bhushan, Warren Malone and Matthew Sucich.

Universal Life Church, ULC, We Are All Children Of the Same Universe