december 2009

Spuyten Duyvil (from left: Sarah Banks, Tom Socol, Beth Kaufman, Steve Horowitz, Mark Miller): Wandering the last 100 years of American music…

The Devil, You Say!

By Billy Altman

Spuyten Duyvil
Imix Records

If you're reading, then I don't have to tell you that some of the best music being made and shared these days comes from an Americana/roots movement that continues to gain momentum even as (or perhaps in large part directly because) the commercial mainstream continues to flail about in its celebrity-obsessed, washed-out pop waters. Thanks to the Internet and social networking sites, it is on some level easier than ever for those committed to real, honest music to get their voices heard far and wide. And as a result, there are great opportunities these days for curious and adventurous listeners to hear all sorts of worthwhile performers who, in older days, without a national record company or high-powered agency behind them, were usually confined to only local or at best regional exposure.

Case in point: Spuyten Duyvil, a band from just outside the environs of New York City (Yonkers to be exact) that has just self-released a debut CD that's among the finer roots-based collections I've heard all year—on any label. Led by the talented duo of songwriter/guitarist Mark Miller and lead vocalist Beth Kaufman, Spuyten Duyvil is named for the creek that runs from the Hudson to the Harlem River, marking the northernmost tip of Manhattan. (It's also the name of the suburban commuter railroad station located at that very spot.) Translated from the Dutch, the term means either "Devil's Whirlpool" or "In Spite of the Devil," the latter phrase popularized by “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” author Washington Irving's story in which a Dutch trumpeter who tried to swim across the turbulent waters during the British attack on New Amsterdam "en spijt den Duyvil (in spite of the Devil)." And, yes, the CD's title track tells that very tale—and in fittingly rousing sea shanty fashion to boot.

It is, however, just one part of this quintet's distinctive, multi-faceted style. Miller is an eclectic composer equally at home with (the heart-in-cheek "I Know You'll Leave Me"), jug band-leaning blues (the frisky, footloose "Let the Rain Come Down"), even mystic folk (the surprisingly elegant "In Sympathy")—and in Kaufman he has a skilled, strong-voiced singer malleable enough to make it all sound of one piece. Meanwhile, fiddler Sarah Banks, guitarist Tom Socol and bassist Steve Horowitz nimbly weave across these various genre lines with both subtlety and taste, evidenced nicely on the set's lone cover, a taut, dark reading of the trad evergreen "Rain and Snow." 

Spuyten Duyvil describes itself as a group whose sound "wanders the last 100 years of American music conjuring embittered civil war veterans, recalcitrant small town bawds, suicidal bureaucrats, star crossed lovers and bravehearted fools navigating the mysteries of daily life." In other words, they've got something to say, not merely something to sell. Take that, Satan. 

Buy it at

For band info:

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024