Demo collections are usually dodgy curiosities at best intended, when they are released, to be consumed by the rabid faithful interested in charting the songwriting process. The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina, led by singer/songwriter/musician Ryan Shivdasani, left an impressive mark on the scene with the 2018 full length studio debut Act 3 and its follow-up, Little King and the Salamander, puts Shivdasani’s fecund creativity in a new light. It’s apparent there’s a buoyant side to his musical identity with the first track “Hey Everybody”. It’s very brief, but it’s a perfect opening number thanks to the way his vocals and guitar work pick listeners up and glow with positive energy. The collection’s second song, “What Fools We Can Be”, is the first track with both lyrics and music, more sedate the first song, but it’s reflective nature doesn’t dilute any sense of urgency but, instead, merely refocuses it in a different way for listeners. Yes, these are demos, but it’s clear two songs in that the label is useless – we can appreciate these tracks as fully realized performances rather than unfinished curiosities.
The title “White Light and Lullabies” makes me think of the seminal Velvet Underground album entitled White Light/White Heat and the association isn’t entirely unwarranted as some of VU’s understated atmospherics creep into Shivdasani’s songwriting. The mid-tempo pace is particularly effective for invoking the song’s inherent melancholy, but it’s lyrically effective as well and Shivdasani’s emotive wail underlines its quality. “Particle Craze”, included in a different version on Act 3 has a slightly different aural texture with this demo version, but the core of the track is more than recognizable and those already familiar with the band will be interested in hearing this earlier initial take on the song.
“Together” is another track that later made its way onto Act 3, albeit in much different form, and this early rudimentary version does an exceptional job of illustrating the song’s development. Acoustic guitar guides “I’ll Be (Kisses at Your Door)” and it has a decidedly downcast mood from the first notes on. The plaintive nature of the guitar work and Shivdasani’s unadorned vocals will immediately connect with you and he is careful to not upset the song’s balance with any needless dross. The next two songs, “Jeepers Creepers” and “Definitely Not My Underwear”, are much more experimental in sound and interesting in a different way – they are glimpses into the depths of Shivdasani’s musical imagination rather than earnest songs working along accessible lines. Nevertheless, they are indispensible sides of The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina’s musical personality.
“Fade Into the Night” is a pensive, acoustic driven number with a nice gliding tempo quite fitting for its elegiac temperament. It makes for a nice vocal showcase, as well, and Shivdasani leans into the lyrical content with an immense amount of style. Little King and the Salamander ends with “I Have Always Been Here”, an unique confluence of Shivdasani’s acoustic songwriting and his artier inclinations. It’s a nice way of encapsulating the myriad musical strands filling out The Merrymaker’s Orchestrina and ends this demo collection with a resounding musical statement.