Hearing Aide: Ari Joshua’s ‘RAAR’ Featuring Russ Lawton & Ray Paczkowski

Last winter, with the ongoing pandemic still raging, South African-born and American-raised guitarist Ari Joshua took a trip to the East Coast, specifically Burlington, VT, to work with Russ Lawton and Ray Paczkowski on a much-discussed organ trio collaboration. Now, this bicoastal musical endeavor has come to fruition in the form of the recently released, six-song EP RAAR, an acronym for the three musicians. With the assistance of Phish’s recording engineer Ben Collette, the trio churned out about 25 different tracks of Joshua-penned selections, mostly brand new compositions and concepts. The final product is a nifty little musical excursion that explores elements of jazz, rock, gospel, funk and everything in between.

The making of RAAR was both delayed and aided by Trey Anastasio Band’s eight-show residency at New York City’s Beacon Theatre the year before. While this would require the attention of bandmembers Lawton and Paczkowski, it also helped initiate the quarantine protocols that allowed Joshua to travel east and make this collaboration a reality. “I owe a great thank you to Trey Anastasio for opening the doors to a protocol to collaborate during his Beacon Theater run, and for sharing these great players with the world,” Joshua told Relix recently.

Russ Lawton, Ari Joshua, Ben Collette, Ray Paczkowski (l-r), photo courtesy of Ari Joshua

The EP is bookended with a couple of tributes to Joshua’s grandmothers. Fittingly, “Gramama” begins the musical journey. It’s a soul-fueled, uptempo number that has the feel of a Sunday celebration at church. Joshua mans the lead vocals with some heavenly female backup vocals added later while ebullient play on the Hammond organ from Paczkowski gives the opener a dash of zydeco flavor as well. “For Ray” sounds exactly how one would expect a Soule Monde “side project” to sound like. The steady, infectious shuffle drum beat from Lawton and aggressive organ and clav runs dominate this signature track while Joshua feathers in the occasional effect-laden guitar lick giving it a somewhat more psychedelic Medeski, Martin and Wood vibe. “Audio Bicycle Day” introduces some haunting background special effects behind motivated electric guitar play from Joshua whose Anastasio influences are omnipresent.

“The Bernie Meme” is a song named for exactly that, the viral meme of Bernie Sanders sitting cross-legged in the middle of winter. Joshua takes more of a lead with a beautifully simplistic guitar lick on another Soule Monde-ish number that hits on aspects of pop, soul and funk resulting in a delicious melting pot of sound. “Star Lord” is a fun romp from start to finish riddled with more psychedelic production and sees Paczkowski shifting nimbly back and forth between the clav and organ once more with Joshua delivering a slew of infectious jazz guitar fills. It’s one of the more cohesive and well-produced tracks on the EP. Lastly, “Rae of Life” serves as the other tribute for Joshua’s late grandmother and definitely evokes a celebration of life mantra, with its delicate guitar licks and soaring, inspirational organ fills atop choir-like backing vocals that gives the ending of RAAR a discernible feel-good quality to it.

From the first note of recording I could sense that Ray and Russ were a perfect musical fit, there was a shared respect and love for the music you don’t always find out there.

Ari Joshua

The band has no current tour plans but there is a vinyl release of RAAR expected later this year. For now, the album can be found at Ari Joshua’s website or on streaming platforms. Joshua is also the founder and owner of The Music Factory, an online music lessons portal which has been running for nearly 15 years, employing close to 100 musicians since its inception.

Key Tracks: For Ray, Star Lord

Ari JoshuaBen ColletteRay PaczkowskiRuss Lawton