Friday, February 14, 2014

Bad Self Portraits a Master's Class in Good Art

Lake Street Dive - Bad Self Portraits
Signature Sounds
-out Feb 18
4 / 5

We think it comes down to Rachael Price's voice. We think that's what it is: Massachusetts-based quartet Lake Street Dive is so heavily anchored on Price's strong, feminine soul voice that it's hard to imagine the other fantastic pieces (guitar, acoustic bass, percussion) fitting together without that crux. You may look around at other reviews that try to describe their sound, and they'll say it's a mix of this, a hodgepodge of that, but truly, it comes down to a tight trio supporting a fantastic, colorful voice. And these songs - songs mostly of lost loves - you can't help but want to sing along to. We think that's the other thing here.

Bad Self Portraits is an excellent mix of driving rock ("Bobby Tanqueray"), soul (the title track) and what we're going to call "stop-and-go" tempoed pop ("Seventeen"). In less experienced hands, the album would be a melting pot of styles, rather than the cohesive, sultry, steaming session it is. Lake Street Dive's soul/rock sound isn't particularly easy to describe, not for lack of comparisons, but because it's not groundshaking or especially earthquaking; it is, however, just plain good. It's a familiar sound, but new enough (especially in songwriting), and executed very well. We have difficulty choosing a favorite song out of these eleven, but suffice it to say the downtempo closer, "Rental Love," captures our hearts just because it's the most melancholy track here.

Bad Self Portraits comes off highly recommended for those in the mood for strong female vocals, fellow fans of Avi and Celia / Sharon Jones, and for those with a pulse in their veins.

Listen to the title track on Soundcloud.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Duke of Norfolk Takes Flight on Debut Full-Length

The Duke of Norfolk - Birds... Fly South!
Mint 400 Records

-out Feb 4
3.5 / 5

Birds... Fly South! is one of those little down-to-earth folk albums we like stumbling into every now and then. It's a brief, earnest 34 minutes pared down from The Duke's seven EPs over the past three years, all songs redone in a more cohesive style. The nom d'musique of UK resident Adam Howard, The Duke of Norfolk comes off like Josh Ritter's second cousin and is stylistically married to The Avett Brothers: that said, anticipate acoustic guitar and banjo a-plenty, with folk vocals that have a slight Conor Oberst timbre to them. The album comes on slowly like an ocean breeze and hangs in the air like an albatross mid-flight.

Which is to say, the tracks here don't stun or overwhelm so much as warm and hum. "The First Day of Spring" is one of the standouts on Birds, a track anchored with good, driving acoustic and lyrics that complement the yearning strings. It's a lovely mood that Howard establishes here, joyous and a bit restrained, and the preceding track "Desert Isle" bounces with a boisterous guitar. Our main concern is that The Duke of Norfolk's style requires very precise and poignant lyrics, and sometimes they struggle a bit to capture the warmth and personality of the instrumentation. Again, as much as we like "Desert Isle, the lyric "I am not so full of guile" seems a stretch of a rhyme for "desert isle." Our other critique is for the closer, "Lovely Winter," which feels like a Christmas piece, and a little out of place here, but overall the mood is well-established and a pleasant one.

Birds... Fly South! is a warm, heart-on-the-sleeve folk album that grew on us over the past week. It's an exciting start from a talented singer/songwriter, and hopefully presages more to come. Recommended.

Stream it on Soundcloud!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A (sort of) Interview with Lake Street Dive

We've been grooving hard to the soulful power-vocals of Lake Street Dive's Rachael Price (third from left) for the past two weeks. With their new album, Bad Self Portraits due out in a couple weeks, we realized how much we wanted to get on the ground floor with this crew - even though it's probably pretty hairy business to do so (see barbershop pic - look, a funny!). Their album seems well-positioned to propel the self-described dive-bar quartet onto the larger music radar, with recognition from Rolling Stone and The New York Daily News. The non-barbershop quartet, with members hailing from Nashville to Iowa, is surprisingly hard to get a hold of, so much so that we threw our questions directly to their sophomore LP with surprisingly candid results. (Photo copyright Jarrod McCabe)
Note: Check them out on The Colbert Report (Feb 5th) and David Letterman (Feb 21). Check out their tour schedule; unfortunately they're sold out in the NE until April!

Ravings: What a great album! You can't just sit around and record all day; what have you been doing in your spare time?
Bad Self Portraits: I bought this camera to take pictures of my love. Now that he's gone, I don't have anybody to take pictures of. I'm taking landscapes, I'm taking still lifes.

RMMM: Bad self portraits?
BSP: I'm taking bad self portraits. I spent my life so lost on lovin', I could've been a painter or a president.

RMMM: I know the feeling. Sometimes things just don't work out.
BSP: I'm so sick of lying, telling myself it's the end.

RMMM: I wouldn't go that far. But yeah, there are good times and bad.
BSP: I could spend ages reading the news. I could spend days singing the blues. But I turn up the TV light. Give up without a fight. Better than pretending to know what is wrong and what is right.

RMMM: Speaking of which, watch any good shows? You get into Mad Men?
BSP: Another night wasted in my parents' basement. Why did I ever go back home?

RMMM: To be honest, I never got into that show; I'm more of a Dexter fan. I just heard it was pretty good. I don't think Mad Men's for me. Fan of Mr. Draper?
BSP: I can say you are the only one I see, but I can't stop at two or three. I am afraid to need you so. I am too sober not to know that you may be my problem and not my love.

RMMM: Oh, I didn't realize you got into TV so much!
BSP: How long has it been since I've given in to what I see what is right in front of me...

RMMM: Probably not long at all.
BSP: Occasionally, some room to breathe is exactly what I need. And how long has it been since I've had a friend that'll make me see what's right in front of me?

RMMM: Haha, yeah, I prefer watching TV with other people, too. Speaking of watching, what do you want your fans to know for your shows?
BSP: Imagine each one's a man, takes a number, stands in line. My door is always open if you find you want to talk. I'll do anything for you, all you got to do is ask. So just ask. I know I have your love, baby, and you know you'll always have mine.

That mostly worked, right? Listen to some live sets on Soundcloud.