Label: Proteus Records
Ever heard of New Zealand’s the Drongos? Me either. I bought this on a whim out of the used bin of a local record store based solely on the liner notes. The Drongos came to New York City in 1978 and, at a friends’ recommendation, went out and starting busking in the vicinity of Times Square (a very different Times Square than we know today). Though they graduated from the streets into clubs and pubs, in 1984, they returned to their old stomping grounds to record this album as apparently they felt they were intended to be heard, live and lean. The result is not only a fine recording, but a snapshot in time of a place that no longer exists.
The appropriately named Small Miracles (I mean, this sounds awfully good considering the circumstances of its recording), finds the Drongos running through a set list that is clearly influenced by their time in America. The NYC of the 70s is immediately apparent in the Ramones’ energy and Lou Reed seediness of “Substance Abuser,” the Bo Diddley shuffle of “Standing on the Corner” and their own frenetic take on Chuck Berry’s “Monkey Business” (which they even introduce as an “American folk song”). They touch on rockabilly and include a few hints of jazz. They also incorporate some of the British sounds that would have been working their way through late 70s and early 80s NYC. “Metronome” dabbles in ska and a late Clash influence permeates much of the album (including its ability draw on a broad palette).
Interestingly, the Drongos also brought a fresh optimism with them. Out of the slowly recovering decay of the city, they exude an upbeat nature. Even “Leave Me Alone” has the sense that things will get better rather than the angst-ridden nihilism one might expect. Overall, Small Miracles is not essential listening, but it is a wonderful snapshot through the eyes of outsiders who became insiders.