Chris Rael CHURCH OF BETTY

 

Chris Rael CRITICS CORNER

Scroll down through years of critical praise from our revered music media!

donna

I attended an amazing edition of LaMama's Coffeehouse Chronicles yesterday, devoted to the memory of John Vaccaro, founder of the Playhouse of the Ridiculous... where the teenager who became Penny Arcade got her start in 1967. Penny organized yesterday’s tribute, and an amazing experience it was, packed to the rafters with old hippies, queers and freaks, and a few rubberneckers like me who came hoping some of their magic would rub off on us.

Presenters included Ruby Lynn Reyner, who appeared in 40 Vaccaro productions and is the subject, with Robert Feinberg, of the 2008 HBO documentary Finishing Heaven, Lola Pashalinsky, who spoke about the "Great Upheaval" which occurred during the productions of Conquest of the Universe a.k.a When Queens Collide; Crystal Field of Theater for the New City (via pre-recorded video); playwright Ken Bernard, whose plays for the company included The Moke Eater, The Magic Show Dr. Mag-icoThe 60 Minute Queer Show and Fin du Cirque; Chris Rael of Church of Betty; and LaMama’s own Nicky Paraiso.

ACKER AWARD RECIPIENTS 2016:   Music - Chris Rael, Samoa Moriki

NYwaste

"(An) effective means of transporting the audience into the world of Chokher Bali was the music. Deep Singh on the harmonium, Chris Rael on the sitar, and Bill Buchen on the dholak provided live scene-change music, which helped establish setting and tone with traditional instrumentation and melodies."

"Colorful music... after an impressive 17 years, Rael is first and foremost a singer-songwriter who has found a unique way of expressing his songs. If psychedelic rock is your taste, you will find a veritable banquet in Church of Betty."

Swirled World makes the Best of 2015 Albums List for Mixed Bag, George Graham's eclectic smorgasbord on WVIA Radio

Swirled World clocks in at #5 in the Top 20 Albums of 2015 at Head Room, Barry Smolin's beautiful radio program on KPFK Radio in LA

A drolly charismatic onstage delight, monomonikered Stew (of Passing Strange and the Negro Problem fame) is the sort of performer who makes other singer-songwriters sound painfully drab in comparison. He'll also be MCing tonight's lineup of smart, witty, and distinctive acts, including Chris Rael and his longtime Indian-influenced art-rock outfit Church of Betty along with Eszter Balint, the darkness-loving folk-punk singer notable for her unsettling performances as Louie C.K.'s Hungarian-speaking lover during last season's Louie

Heaven Magazine, Amsterdam: "Rael is a crossover musician par excellence... wondrously beautiful sound fanning out in all directions... despite the emphatically Indian atmosphere, Swirled World sounds very poppy, thanks to good, catchy songs."

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CLEVER! Church of Betty: Swirled World The congregation in The Church of Betty consists of Chris  Rael/g-g-sit-voc, Brian Geltner/dr, Chris Cochrane/g, Claire de Brunner/bassoon, along with a parachurch group that includes a string section and guest vocalists with percussionists. Some of the songs have an acoustic guitar groove that is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin III, as Rael sings along on Ever Deeper, Endure and Muse. Some interesting world sound form a raga with sitar leading the way on Wake Up while straightahead boogie on the guitar gets cooking on Swirled World. Central Asian sounds come across as well on I Remember You as the band gallops to the finish line like the run of the bulls on Paella. Clever mix of sounds and countries.

Paella, a new video (created by Steve Zehentner) from the album Swirled World by Church of Betty (produced by Kenny Siegal), is a joyous celebration of diversity. Humanity, in its finest form, is not a melting pot where individuals lose their cultural identity, but a paella: a "little of this and a little of that", mixed together in complementing flavors, where "the secret ingredient is love", Chris Rael states in his simple but powerful, heartfelt lyrics. 

The song is a recipe of auditory delights, including strings, bassoon, electric and acoustic guitars, percussion and vocal harmonies. The tone traverses the globe, weaving pop components with Indian and Latin grooves. 

These days any cultural institution smart enough to commission mono-monikered Stew and musical-theatrical partner Heidi Rodewald is practically guaranteed a tour-de-force of the why-didn't-anyone-think-of-this-before? variety. The Passing Strange duo — who have also performed as the Negro Problem since their Nineties punk-rock origins in Los Angeles — recently premiered a new work at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Wagner, Max! Wagner! reflects on the Wagnerian connection to the blues, slavery, anti-Semitism, racism, Yiddish, and probably Volkswagen, too. The pair will perform songs from it here with their frequent sitar-slinging collaborator Chris Rael and his longtime Indian-influenced art-rock outfit Church of Betty. Both bands combine big smarts with large-hearted emotion, canny wit, and distinctive sounds.

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Kennedy Center review: "Stew and Heidi have put together an enormously talented group of musicians to bring this show to life and do not skimp in the area of instruments/players. There's even a sitar - played by Chris Rael - which adds a unique flavor to an early number. Each musician is given a chance to shine."

Kennedy Center review: "The Wagner Problem musicians each have a significant part in shaping the music. Their instruments range everywhere from traditional drums and keyboard, to a cello, bassoon, accordion, and even a sitar. Each musician has their share of impressive solos throughout the evening, showcasing the true talent of the band."

DCmetro

Church of Betty’s latest album, Swirled World is equal parts Power-Pop, World Music and Radiohead detours in adventurous musical endeavors. Those descriptions might seem a little ridiculous until you actually listen to the record, which is filled with shimmering melodies, and odd-time signatures. The use of the sitar as the main melodic instrument on the melodic I Remember You is particularly riveting.

Too often, bands use a collage of sounds as a crutch, leaning on sounds to make their music sound interesting at the expense of, things called actual songs. Not so on Swirled World. Church of Betty mastermind Chris Rael’s songs are laser-sharp in execution and performance, particularly on the folk-pop gem Beautiful Vessel, the psychedelic touches of opener Wake Up and the amusing  Brooklyn Soul, which is a love-letter to the borough  in the vein of Walt Whitman.

Like Sufjan Stevens, Rael layers even his straight-ahead songs with sonic details that come in and out like violins, horns and various instruments. Like a good painter, these are just extra colors made with broad strokes that add to the over-all experience.

Swirled World, the rather well-named new album by the long-running project Church of Betty is an interesting and fun stylistic pastiche of rock, pop, retro psychedelia, world music and a general assemblage of different musicians and styles in what reminds me of a hippie “happening” back in the day. To be sure, it’s not a purely retro album, and there are some interesting compositions, but the atmosphere is loose and a lot more freewheeling than some of the recent creative, and more carefully arranged, cross-cultural fusion projects. The music manages to strike a good balance between being appealingly tuneful, and playfully experimental.

Church of Betty makes the eclectic accessible. This gang can play, and despite bringing in influences that you didn’t even know existed – Ethiopian pop music from the 60s anyone? – any band that can take a song entitled Paella and make it work is the real deal.

Over the years progressive world chamber rock ensemble Church of Betty have carved a niche for themselves in the New York underground. Fronted by singer and sitar player Chris Rael they mix Indian rhythms with Western pop. Like George Harrison, but with a firmer grasp of the instruments of the Far East. As a recording act they have been lying low for over a decade. The new album Swirled World is a return to form, with a fresh line-up to boot.

While lots of Western world musicians try really hard to sound as authentic as native musicians, Church of Betty uses it as launchpad for accessible pop songs peppered with adventurous rhythms and radio-friendly hooks. Music is first and for all entertainment and Rael, through this work on documentary soundtracks and the like, has developed a knack for composing catchy tunes with rather sad lyrics. The inherent discrepancy of upbeat music telling serious stories is a surefire guarantee for captivating listening.

"Church of Betty Swirled World is a perfect example why I think that if one keeps looking / exploring / diggin' deeper .. some incredible masterpieces of pop-rock-underground are to be found TODAY ... the *origins* sure were produced decades ago .. this quality and originality became a landmark .. forever .. but ... Church of Betty's new one proves that one can produce masterpieces based on this history ... Brilliant!!"Radio Host Lord Litter,  Radio-Marabu.de, KWTF and Radio on Berlin

There are few bands that have been as tenaciously creative, exploratory, eclectic and inclusive as Church of Betty.

Culture Catch Video of the Week:  "So simple that it will hypnotize, but that's always been the case with many of NY-based Chris Rael's Church of Betty tunes. His new single "Endure" (from longplayer Swirled World) channels the raga spirit of George Harrison. The video directed by filmmaker/photographer Jasmine Hirst has an edgy, East Village experimental quality that perfectly exploits the overall tone and texture. 25 years in and Church of Betty can still thrill."

We haven't heard anything from Church of Betty in quite some time so we were pleasantly surprised when this arrived in our trusty ol' mailbox. We've enjoyed previous releases from this ultra-creative band and we're pleased to report that Swirled World is yet another stellar addition to the catalog. If you've never heard this band before they make music that is sometimes reminiscent of classic artists like Apples In Stereo, Todd Rundgren, and XTC...without ever sounding too much like any of the three. Bandleader Chris Rael has a great knack for writing smart winding melodies with intelligent lyrics and he's consistent. You won't ever find yourself fast forwarding through material on Church of Betty albums. Swirled World presents ten groovy tracks that include the talents of Chris Cochrane (guitar), Rima Fand (violin), Pinky Weitzman (viola), Claire de Brunner (bassoon), and Brian Geltner (drums). No wonder this band is a favorite among critics, their music always hits the target. Totally rewarding tracks include Wake Up, I Remember You, Endure, and Muse.

babysue

On Church of Betty's Without You (Nilsson This Is the Town compilation): "This tribute album adheres fairly closely to Nilsson’s originals. One striking exception is Church Of Betty’s Without You, which smartly avoids trying to match Harry’s perfect vocal performance and instead transforms it into something that sounds a whole lot like George Harrison’s Indian music experimentation with the Beatles, complete with sitar and bongo-y percussion."

Penny Arcade in Queens Park Music Club, Volume 1: Kling Klang, Glasgow: "Chris Rael is a master of literary songwriting set in dissonant and lyrical landscapes."

New York Times review of the New Stew Review at 54 Below: "Between numbers, Stew, in a black kufi and orange scarf, became ever more hilariously voluble... He drank a big beer and clowned with his co-performers, who included the deft sitarist Chris Rael... Sexy Brooklyn Mommy should be the borough’s official song of the summer."

nyt

Review of Nilsson tribute compilation This Is the Town calls out Church of Betty's Without You: "Such pop classics as Without You are given modern updated deliciously alternative readings."  

Philadelphia Daily News applauds Church of Betty's cover of Without You on the Nilsson tribute compilation This Is the Town:

PDN

Church of Betty Globestra CD release concert for The Lazarus Rose at the New York Sephardic Music Festival: "With the latest iteration of his long-evolving Church of Betty project, the relentlessly curious and always-impressive singer/composer/multi-instrumentalist Chris Rael delves into his family's Sephardic lineage and discovers it contains multitudes. He now performs on the guitarra Portuguesa in addition to sitar, adding his soaring Hindustani-trained voice to those of Bulgarian singer Vlada Tomova, flamenco percussionist Nacho Arimany, and the eclectic musician Marlon Cherry."

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Church of Betty Globestra photo highlighting TimeOut New York's preview of the New York Sephardic Music Festival. (Photo: Rick Jungers) 

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Seven Days "The Magnificent 7":  #1 MUST SEE/MUST DO in Burlington, Vermont (Photo: Leela Rupa)

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A Musical Babel: John Schaefer broadcasts Church of Betty Globestra's Ventanas Altas on WNYC's New Sounds in a program featuring "unlikely combinations of cultures and traditional musics giving a global perspective". Download podcast here

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Church of Betty appears in the BAMcafe Live All Stars series as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival. (Photo: Sybille Jud)

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Boston Globe:  "Here’s a concept: an American-based band that plays music inspired by the folk traditions of the Balkans in southeastern Europe, and that is actually led by someone from that region..." (Photo: Ivo Christov)vladaglobe

Chris Rael wins the New York International Fringe Festival 2011 Overall Excellence Award for Music Composition for ARABY

Chris Rael's ARABY at New York International Fringe Festival: "Best known for his sophisticated India-tinged rock, Rael has set fifteen stories from James Joyce's Dubliners to music in Araby, a multimedia "chamber musical" for nine-piece ensemble. Autobiographical interludes punctuate 15 story-songs sung from Joyce's characters' POV. Rael's videos of Dublin open windows onto the city's soul."

Sephardic debut: "Best known for his band Church of Betty's sophisticated India-influenced rock, Chris Rael debuts a new group devoted to the Ladino-language Sephardic sounds of Spain, Portugal, and Israel. Too personal to be reduced to mere "fusion," the singer and multi-instrumentalist's deeply felt new material enjoys a Balkan tinge by way of Vlada Tomova..."

Fang Records Night: "During the '80s and '90s, Chris Rael's scrappy Fang Records specialized in off-kilter pop releases that blurred genre lines with humor and panache... Church of Betty bandleader Chris Rael still does Indo-pop better than anyone..."

Chris Rael's ARABY: "The musical soars... Achieves the kind of musical bliss that is currently missing on Broadway... Filling the new Dixon Place space with pounding strings, Rael's songs come alive... ARABY manages to hit high note after high note, particularly on standout song "Grace." As the singers' harmonies rise above the swooning orchestration, the song - and the show - lives up to the name."

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On Beat poet Marty Matz: "In 1990 and early 1991 Marty and Barbara Matz spent eight months in the Chelsea Hotel, where they hosted a convivial salon which included Huncke, painter Vali Myers, poet Ira Cohen, and literateur Roger Richards. The Matzes separated in the late 1990s, and he again hit the road, living for a time in Oaxaca, Mexico. He found a warm receptiveness for his poetry in Italy, where he joined a "Beat Bus" tour of poets, including Ira Cohen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Anne Waldman. In 2000 Matz found himself back full circle in his native Brooklyn. He recorded a CD of his poetry, A Sky of Fractured Feathers, with musicians Chris Rael and Deep Singh. Marty spent his final months on New York's Lower East Side, where he graciously received a new generation of admirers. He died on October 28, 2001, in the hospice unit of Cabrini Hospital."

Beats

Spinning on Air: Reflection and Memories in Song.  "The anniversary of the 2001 9/11 attacks inspires reflection and memories, and here are some songs that express related emotions: compassion, uncertainty, fear, determination, and hope. A few songs — by Chris Rael, John Vanderslice, and Sport Murphy — address the event directly, while other songs — by Nina Simone, Antony and The Johnsons, Mose Allison, Feathers, and others — touch effectively on the feelings associated with life-changing experiences. And from Bob Dylan and Devendra Banhart we have songs that deal with issues of war. Perceptive songs, old and new, presented by host David Garland." 

 

Chris Rael wins Outstanding Soundtrack Award at the 2005 Outfest Film Festival in Los Angeles for Queer Realities and Cultural Amnesia

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"Rael has consistently blended rock and Indian classical music better than any Western guitar guy, ever." - Village Voice

"Sliding, scalloped phrases shape Hindustani music to the concision of pop hooks... irresistible." - New York Times

"Musical and cultural fusion of the first order." - Boston Herald

"Entrancing, a brilliant, tuneful set." - Billboard

"Purveyors of urban psychedelia, with a voice sweeter than Prince." - Magnet

"Rael achieves what George Harrison's raga noodlings only hinted at." - Creem

"Church of Betty mixes Indian and Western music into a spicy, always surprising blend that sounds like neither style alone but expands the boundaries of both." - OffOffOff.com

"Church of Betty squeezes the expansive soul of raga into the tight curves of rock, to create a complex and surprisingly harmonious hybrid." - ThinkIndia.com

"Church of Betty search for ecstasy, but contribute movement, sweat, physical expression and the possibility of joy to their sensorama of sound." - Gay City News

"A provocative new addition to the ever-widening field of recombinant cultural research." - Option Magazine

"A must for those in search of something totally new." - Toronto Now

"Najma's passionate singing and Church of Betty's modernist psychedelia allow one to imagine Judy Garland backed by the Strawberry Alarm Clock." - New York Newsday

"Church of Betty recall an era where experimentation with exotic sounds was the norm and not a novelty, without coming off like drippy neo-hippies." - Cover

"For once, here's a band with not only the will to experiment, but the skill to pull it off." - Splendid

"Chris Rael worships the sacred in the secular, and vice versa... a rocking adventure in the canyons of your maya." - Village Voice

"Rael's compositions are singular and shimmering. Sincere, brilliant stuff." - Good Times

"Every note and nuance clear; lyrics witty, soulful, riddling; musicianship from on high, and YES, IT ROCKS!" - The Splatter Effect

THE DEVIL YOU KNOW:  "Witty and galvanizing." - Village Voice

TRIPPING WITH WANDA "conjures and cleanses, swoons and seduces. If otherworldy rock exists, surely this is as lofty as it gets. A rich, brimming, brilliant record." - All Music Guide

TRIPPING WITH WANDA: "A very eclectic album full of surprises and spilling over the brim with imagination. Pop music with a unique and definite difference." - BabySue.com

TRIPPING WITH WANDA:  "A beautiful journey, the synchronicity of it all is incredible. It's impossible to be bored listening to this CD. Highly recommended." - Midwest-Ursine.com

TUNNEL RAGAS:  "At once pure, devotional, improvisational and profanely urban, a fascinating listen." - All Music Guide

SONGS ABOUT BUILDINGS AND TRAINS:  "One would be hard pressed to come by a work more delightful, modest, unassuming or lovely." - iTunes

"Listening to Church of Betty's album FRUIT ON THE VINE feels a bit like being in a strange dream. A dream in which the surreal slowly becomes real and the unfamiliar becomes hauntingly familiar." - Rediff.com

FRUIT ON THE VINE:   "Chris Rael's brash new world of raga, ghazals, Bombay filmi, and smart street-corner prog rock." - Village Voice

COMEDY OF ANIMALS:  "Weaving dulcimer, bassoon, accordion and strings seamlessly with the usual rock tools, they make a sound that's gently and seductively charming." - Cover

COMEDY OF ANIMALS:  "A thrilling work, overflowing with vision." - All Music Guide 

MULE ME:  "After freefalling kicking and screaming into their world, you come out the other side and land firmly right back where you begin, safe but uneasy." - Circus

MULE ME:  "The album plays precisely like a postmodern White Album, loaded with wildly diverging stylistic cut-and-pasting and absolutely inspired composing from two very individual songwriters: Chris Rael, also front man for the excellent Church of Betty, and Kenny Siegal... a grand sense of eloquence and a majestic grasp at prodigious musical ideas consistently pulled off with confident aplomb." - All Music Guide

MULE ME:  "One of the most original records I've heard this year." - Ink Nineteen

MULE ME:  "Run - don't trip - on your way to listening to this." - U Rocks

FORBIDDEN KISS:  Rael's "additions to the music are awesome, spotting everything from exotic hand percussion and sitar to typical Western instruments and splashes of home at all the right moments, neither overloading nor underwhelming the music but rendering it mutable and wonderfully alive." - iTunes

FORBIDDEN KISS:  "A juicy primer to a world of music that is still underappreciated for its sheer creative audacity... comports itself with an air of cultural surrealism." - Jazz Times

FORBIDDEN KISS "brims with intrigue and romance, with influences that range from James Bond to bluegrass and far beyond... a hip introduction to the wonders of filmi, from Indian cinema's Golden Age." - RhythmMusic

IN SEARCH OF SPIRITUAL JUNKFOOD:  "This record is not joking, and it issues a very serious challenge to all other purveyors of psychedelia." - Sound Views

IN SEARCH OF SPIRITUAL JUNKFOOD:  "For all its quirkiness, it keeps beckoning for repeated listenings." - Expose

KASHI:  "True sonic adventureland, impressive and intense." - New York Review of Records

KASHI:  "A culturally rich explosion, a vast garden of brilliant colors and exotic species." - Good Times

KASHI:  "A culture bender of avant angles and reverential sitar and sarod strains." - College Music Journal

KASHI:  "This is more than just a pop album with an Eastern slant. Rael forges a unique combination."- Alternative Press

KASHI:  "What is most impressive is the sense that something absolutely new and original is being attempted, which is certainly rare in the music biz these days." - The Splatter Effect

WEST OF THE EAST:  "Chris Rael succeeded where Terry Riley failed: he came back from the Himalayas singing Indian-style over a rock background and made it enchanting." - Village Voice

WEST OF THE EAST:  "The world of Betty is one previously uncharted, where sitars, Indian horns, and more westernly instruments comingle to produce music that would sound exotic in any planetary locale." - College Music Journal

"If you have a penchant for bizarre, intriguing arrangements or just plain brilliant artistic experimentation, WEST OF THE EAST  is the place for you." - Good Times

"Chris Rael is a musician of astonishing breadth and expression." - GirlsOn.com

"Chris writes deep, sexy, poetic lyrics and sings them with passion." - Kweevak.com

"Chris Rael is a genius. He travels on a trip of movement, sweat, physical expression and the possibility of joy in a sensorama of sound. Be Here Now never felt like so much fun." - Listen Up

"The way Rael uses Hindustani singing techniques and melodies so effortlessly is really quite amazing." - CDuniverse.com

"Moving beyond the mere meeting of East and West... the audience is extremely integrated because the music has a universal appeal." - India Abroad

"Trippy, shimmery chords evoking Todd Rundgren, XTC and Captain Beefheart... bridging musical traditions in a way that never feels strained." - The Valley Advocate

"It may just be a tribute to my ignorance, but I can't compare this to anything. Very well done and really good material." - Maximum Rock 'n' Roll

"Chris Rael, the otherworldly voice and sitar mastermind of New York's legendary Church of Betty." - Austin Chronicle

"Brilliant singer-songwriter Chris Rael, from New York's famous band Church of Betty, makes his Irish debut." - Dublin Fringe Festival

"Chris Rael has earned high marks for his ability to bridge the musical gaps and traditions of Indian classical music and American rock... eclectic East-meets-West experimentation." - Willamette Week

"Chris Rael, the sitar playing mastermind behind Church of Betty." - Billboard

First review: "Chris Rael effectively fuses Pop gloss with the more interesting elements usually found in more obscure or "difficult" anti-musical genres, staking out refreshing new territory."