Though it’s been imitated plenty of times since 1967, “Subway Joe” remains unique. Everything on the record jostles for attention like buskers in the subway. The piano and the Caribbean drums are blown out, distorted, and gleefully shoved into the red. Trumpets blare with impatience like car horns in rush hour traffic on Fifth Avenue. The backing vocals are a leering, excitable chorus, dizzy with amorality, and singer Joe Bataan sounds thrilled about the prospect of flirtation and confrontation on public transit — even if his narrator is less predator than prey. The whole thing is a high-speed collision between crude but delicious mambo Cubano, proto-salsa, NYC-style doo-wop, and garage-rock stompers like “Louie Louie” and “Watusi.” 

Joe Bataan
Joe Bataan

Though “Subway Joe” heralded raucous new directions for Latin pop, Joe Bataan isn’t Latin.  He’s half African-American, half Filipino, and all New Yorker, and he has always proceeded as if ethnic street styles in Gotham were his by birthright to combine and reinterpret. (Which, of course, they are.) On his ‘70s albums with the East Side Kids, he pushed toward a hybrid of bugalú, doo-wop, and Motown-inspired sound that he called “salsoul.” 1979 single “Rap-O Clap-O,” one of the most enjoyable records released in the immediate wake of the Sugar Hill Gang, remains an early hip-hop landmark. Bataan had some lean years in the ’90s, but he never stopped rolling, and these days, he’s back on that train, high on… well, high on himself, mostly.  Hey, you would be, too.  On the 28th of January, the subway stops at White Eagle Hall.  The ride ought to be well worth the fare.

Also:

Raulito Ortiz @ The Factory (January 1)

Though few styles of Latin music sound more traditional than bachata does, it’s a hybrid form. Bachateros match the precision and phrasing of Spanish guitar playing with Latin rhythms. Bachata contains many great singers, but the real stars of the show are often the men on the requintos. This is music for guitar heroes: six-string titans with tones as clear, and sometimes as gentle, as Caribbean waters. Raulito Ortiz, a quick-picking guitarist with a sweet voice and a firm understanding of dramatic melody, is an exemplar of the style. “Actor Barato,” his 2019 single, is quintessential pop-bachata: tricky little skeins of guitar notes, explosive bursts of high percussion, and a passionate, emotional performance by the singer. He’ll kick off the new year at the town’s foremost spot for Latin music. (The Factory, 451 Communipaw Ave., 7 p.m., call 201-630.4396 or visit www.instagram.com/thefactorynj.)

Jonathan Ware & Free Thought @ The Hutton (January 7)

There’s nothing ostentatious about Jonathan Ware, who disguises his formidable instrumental chops behind a cool demeanor. He’s not going to be in your face about it, but he’s an excellent jazz piano player with commendable poise, equally fluent on electric and acoustic instruments. Much as I dig his deep, resonant, bassy chords, I think I might like him best when he’s getting decorative on the Rhodes. His four-man combo includes his brother Daniel on drums, and you can tell — the pair have that kind of preternatural musical connection that only seems to occur between siblings.  And though Ware’s timeless sound belongs to Jazz Nation, he’s Jersey all the way. This Franklin Township native put a picture of the Route 27 sign on the cover of his last release, just in case you were wondering where he’s coming from. (The Hutton, 225 Hutton St.; 8:30 p.m., free; visit www.thehuttonjc.com or jonathanware.bandcamp.com.)

Debra Devi @ 902 Brewing (January 13)

Debra Devi
Debra Devi

Speaking of instrumental champions and guitar heroes, it’s always tough to turn down an appearance by the incendiary Debra Devi. If you haven’t heard her, she’s Hudson County’s answer to Susan Tedeschi: a blues-rock true believer, thoughtful singer-songwriter, and charismatic performer who isn’t as much of a traditionalist as she initially seems to be. “Jamification Station Vol. 1,” her most recent project, found her stretching out in all directions, chasing vintage and current psych sounds, covering Hendrix, and generally having a blast with her axe. The “Jamification” project, which followed the tighter but no less imaginative “A Zillion Stars Overhead” LP, is an outgrowth of a lockdown livestream project that became a series of social-distanced concerts at Silver Horse Sound in Hoboken. It was a comfort to know that at least somebody was enjoying herself a little during quarantine. Devi plans to get back to rocking in person in 2023, and she’s starting this year’s campaign in Bergen-Lafayette. (902 Brewing, 101 Pacific Ave., 7 p.m.; free; visit www.902brewing.com.)

Anthony Fuscaldo @ Franklin Social (January 15 and January 29)

Much like the Hutton (or the Brightside), Franklin Social is a local tavern where a patron stands a very good chance of encountering a talented jazz performer. The décor is Colonial-sharp, there’s an attic room with a vintage drinking club feel, and the music often suits the scene. Yet this January, they’re bringing in an innovator: Anthony Fuscaldo, a guitarist with a record of soundtrack work and a knack for finding the sweet spot between jazz warmth and chilly electronic thrills. A Beautiful World, his album, is a confident globe-trot, drawing from Eastern European folk, bossa nova, North American swing, and — that irrepressible Jersey City favorite — French gypsy jazz.  He’s not as raucous as the guys in Manouche Bag, but he clearly knows the style well.  This month, Fuscaldo is giving us two chances to catch his experiments in musical fusion; they’re both during Sunday brunch, so I wouldn’t expect anything too disruptive. (Franklin Social, 22 Barrow St., 12:30 p.m.; free; visit www.franklinsocial.com.)  

CR and the Nones/Tom Barrett @ Fox & Crow (January 21)

Tom Barrett

Here’s a double bill from two of the town’s foremost folk-rockers: storyteller CR Gennone, leader of CR and the Nones, and spellbinder Tom Barrett, frontman of the post-punk band Overlake. With the Nones, Gennone is less abrasive than he was when he used to front a group called the Degenerates, but his lyrics still contain barbs aplenty. Wordplay, grim jokes, confessions and clever little references; it’s not a happy world that Gennone’s characters inhabit, but chances are, neither is yours. “You Are and You’ve Always Been,” the latest solo set from Barrett, was squarely among the best albums released in Jersey City in 2022 and was counted as such by Jim Testa — “Let Clementine Run,” in particular, is a legitimate stab at finger-picked acoustic Nick Drake-itude from a celebrated rock musician who is usually associated with roaring, fuzzed-out electric guitar. That’s the mood he’s in these days. Go on, let him brighten your northern sky. (Live in the Parlor, Fox & Crow, 594 Palisade Ave., 8 p.m.; $10; visit www.foxandcrowjc.com.)

Joe Bataan @ White Eagle Hall (January 28)

He calls himself the “King of Latin Soul,” and it’s easy to see why. Still, it shortchanges him. In the sixties and seventies, no matter what the coming trend in music was, Joe Bataan recognized it. He wasn’t just one of the first artists out with a rap record — he also anticipated disco on his 1975 album “Afrofilipino.” His live shows were always explosive, and he constantly kept an ear to the streets, no matter how hot, or weird, or alien, they got. In short, he was one of those pioneering, omnivorous, unclassifiable New York City artists who seem to have vanished in the staid old twenty-first century: a musician whose very existence demonstrated that Gotham was where it all came together. Only there, and only then, could a kid from Spanish Harlem have held all these contrasting influences in beautiful tension. Bataan’s style was a fusion of Tropicalía, roughneck streetcorner doo-wop, gospel, Cuban rhythms, soul ballads and piano pop, all delivered with gangster attitude and ruthless joy. No nickname sums that up, and only a groove could ever contain it. (White Eagle Hall, 337 Newark Ave., 8 p.m.; $25; visit www.whiteeaglehall.com.)

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Tris McCall

Tris McCall has written about art, architecture, performance, politics, and public culture for many publications, including the Newark Star-Ledger, the Bergen Record, Jersey Beat, the Jersey City Reporter,...