The Hippo


May 31, 2020








 Billy Wylder

When: Friday, June 1, 8 p.m. 
Where: Riverwalk Cafe, 35 Railroad Square, Nashua
Tickets: $12 at

World music
Billy Wylder readies eclectic new record


 By Michael Witthaus
Raised in a progressive home and taught to play by Pete and John Seeger, activism is a constant in Avi Salloway’s life and art. During the past decade, he’s performed in world crisis spots, from the Palestinian territories to Standing Rock, always delivering a message of music’s power to heal and bring change.
This urge accelerated in 2013, when Salloway joined up with Taureg guitar master Bombino, traveling the world as tour manager and fill-in band member for three years. What he witnessed — strife in the Sahara desert, the ravages of colonization and other struggles — shaped the songs he wrote for the second album from his band, Billy Wylder. 
“It was such an eye-opening wide journey,” Salloway said in a recent phone interview. “It’s hard to even synthesize the spiritual experience into words, but it definitely transcended into my own musicality, songwriting and guitar-playing.”
The group will previews songs from the new disc, called Strike the Match, at Nashua’s Riverwalk Cafe on June 1. It’s a diverse and wide-ranging effort, with moments of airy psychedelia (“Great Blue Heron,” with Lake Street Dive’s Bridget Kearney adding lush harmony), swampy blues rock  (“Medicine Mama”), campfire folk (“Til Your Well Runs Dry”) and crunchy rock (“Fourth of July”).
All the disc’s songs are infused with Salloway’s worldview. 
“In the name of liberty, a nation filled with sin,” Salloway sings at one point. A comment on the impact of climate change in Bombino’s native Niger is especially poignant: “We pray before you, our sacred land/you stand on the mountain with guns in your hand … can’t drink the oil, whatcha gonna do when your well runs dry?”
Traveling with Bombino, who opened for Robert Plant for part of the tour, was transformative for Salloway. 
“Getting to experience how influential music has been in the Tuareg culture as a form of building solidarity and morale against pretty extreme conditions [and] all the layers of colonization and capitalism creeping its way into a genocide of their people, really, to seeing how music was this lifeblood rising up out of the struggle, just kept on reinforcing my belief in the power of music and action and mobilization,” he said. 
Salloway brought that energy back home, where he recruited several friends to augment the quartet, which includes Rob Flax on fiddle and synthesizer, Krista Speroni playing bass and drummer Zamar Odongo; all members sing. Like their first album, much of the record was done at Providence’s Columbus Theater, a space run by his pals in the band Low Anthem.
“It is a pretty unique singular space … just a creative wonderland,” Salloway said of the renovated opera house, built in 1926. “We felt a magnetic pull to just go back there. I think the space opened up how we approached recording, and it was a pretty organic way of building the musical team.”
Guests included Jeremy Gustin (David Byrne, Albert Hammond, Jr.), keyboard player Alexander Anderson, Australian bassist Lucy Clifford and Lula Wiles vocalist Isa Burke. 
“This band is tied to musical and personal friendships that I have had for a while,” Salloway said. “I wanted to bring in that family spirit ... that is really the intention of inviting the people that we did on the record.”
Kearney was away with her own band when Salloway asked her to contribute, but that didn’t deter her. 
“I sent her the song and asked her to sing,” he said. “She had a preamp on her tour bus and said, ‘I have a good microphone, I’ll just give it a try.’ The next day she sent me her beautiful vocal performance.” 
For Salloway, the 11-song, Kickstarter-funded record represents “a musical thread coming together” shaped by his time with Bombino. 
“There’s this angle of West African music, which I see as a primary source for a lot of American folk and rock, and there’s definitely some experimental sonic territory that we get into,” he said. “It feels like a formative work for me as an artist; I think thematically, it’s the most evolved piece of work that I have done.” 

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