Karina Denike has been singing and performing locally and beyond since she fronted the East Bay ska group Dance Hall Crashers in the 1990’s. Since then she has made a name for herself largely as a jazz singer. Her group, The Cottontails featuring legendary horn player Ralph Carney, appears monthly at the Riptide and frequently elsewhere, and she sings with The Bluebells as well. Her playful, utterly guileless delivery and her strong multi-octave voice seem tailor-made for the jazz songbook.
But Denike is also an accomplished songwriter, and for the last two years or so she has been performing a set of her own songs with an unusual combo of backing musicians: James Frazier on baritone guitar (tuned in between a bass and conventional guitar and played like both); Aaron Novik on bass clarinet; Michael McIntosh, also of The Cottontails, on piano; and Eric Garland on drums. Denike herself plays an antique-looking chord organ which, combined with the low strings and reeds, gives a smoky, mysterious tone to the overall sound.
This project puts Denike in the classic pop chanteuse mode, carving out a niche in the narrow space between the indie and traditional music scenes. Despite recent shows above the radar at places like Bottom of the Hill, her home base has been every second Sunday at the Rite Spot, as picturesque a venue as a chanteuse could want.
As if Ms. Denike did not offer enough vocal magic, she duets on many of her songs with Lily Taylor, a show-stopping singer in her own right who performs monthly here as well.
Ramshackle Romeos warmed up the house playing chestnuts like “Moon River,” and “In the Ghetto” on a Martin guitar and just about every unusual instrument you could imagine. Saw and Theramin were featured heavily.