By Jack Sharkey, October 31, 2014.

I wanna show that gospel, country, blues, rhythm and blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll are all just really one thing. Those are the American music and that is the American culture.” ―     Etta James

 

This quote came to mind the first time I listened to Lake Street Dive's eponymous 2011 release. This is a quintessential American album that gives the listener everything that's great about American music. Another derivative Americana album you're probably whispering to yourself right now. Nope. Granted, country music has had to escape the bonds of pre-packaged beer-swillin', truck-drivin', rap-experimentin' good 'ol boys by rebranding itself as Americana, and to a certain extent that was a necessary thing to do, but this band is way beyond conventional roots music. They eschew guitar leads for trumpet leads for crying out loud. The problem is, in our never-ending quest to stick everything we see and hear into some cubbyhole of convenience, Lake Street Dive defies mindless interpretation. That may also be why this is the best band right now that you probably haven't heard of.

Lake Street Dive

  • • Released November 9, 2010 on Signature Sounds Recordings
  • • Produced by Lake Street Dive and Jack Younger
  • • Engineered by Jack Younger and Evan Ruscher
  • • Recorded at Basement 247
  • • Mixed by Jack Younger at Watch City Studios
  • • Mastered by Nick Zampiello, Rob Gonella
  • • Length: 55:05 
  • • Charts: None to speak of but that's our fault, not their's. 

Personnel

  • • Rachael Price - Vocals
  • • Mike Olson - Trumpet, guitar
  • • Bridget Kearney - Bass, vocals
  • • Michael Calabrese - Drums, vocals
  • • Alex Asher - Trombone
  • • Lyle Brewer - Guitar
  • • Jesse Dee - Vocals
  • • Eric Lane - Keyboards
  • • Margaret Glaspy - Violin
  • • Kimber Ludiker - Violin
  • • Luke Price - Violin
  • • Alec Spiegelman - Saxophone
  • • Emmen Zarookian - Piano
  • • Liam Robinson - Accordion

 

Lake Street DiveFirst of all I would like to ask a question of the people who take it upon themselves to label music: I see this album come up listed as 'Country' more than I see it come up listed under any other genre. Why? Is it because they use an acoustic bass, or is it because the music on this album confounds you so much you don't know what to make of it? This is why labels and genre-stuffing is such a waste of time. Yeah, there's some country in there. Some jazz (a lot of jazz). Some blues. Some rock. Some Tennessee honey drawl. Some Massachusetts snark-rock. Some Louisiana swamp and some Motown cool. I could make labels too, but labels don't draw people to music, they push people away from music.

 

Now that I've got that off my chest let's talk about the music. Rachael Price could never win American Idol, the Voice, or any other television game show that purports to be musical in nature. She couldn't win because she is an absolutely fantastic singer. She's not a vocal gymnast, so she doesn't hit notes that will make the teeny-boppers (and their mom-jeans-wearing moms and dads) yell with contrived excitement every time she hits a run to a high note. Price is an artist, and a story-teller, and a musician, so if your musical tastes run to game show thrills, you should probably stop reading here.

 

Ms. Price and her bandmates are adults making sophisticated music that reaches back as far as American music can reach back, without being deriviative or ironic in the least.

 

1. Hello? Goodbye! (3:34): From the opening bossa-nova-on-steroids drums, you know you're into something a little different. That's a good thing. Then the vocals and the band kick in. What's that you hear, a trumpet you say? Indeed. Then a minute in, comes the hook. It sounds like every great hook you've ever heard before but it doesn't exactly go where you think it's going to go. Another good thing. You're going to have to be an active participant in this record. There's light and shade and subtlety and humor that you're just simply going to miss if you're waiting for Ms. Price and friends to don animal costumes and roar at you.

2. Don't Make Me Hold Your Hand (6:12): Interest piqued by the country genrefication of this record, I was waiting to hear some Florida-Georgia Line, or maybe some Jason Aldean, but instead I get this guitar/bass riff that has a bunch of notes and syncopation in it? Thank you Lake Street Dive! I'm afraid that this is a great song that may be too difficult for the unwashed masses to get their heads around. When America doesn't embrace songs like this, the corporate rock (and country) terrorist accountants have won. Don't let America fail people ― add this song to your playlists!

3. Henriette (3:28): If I walked into a gin mill and the band was playing this song, the next round would be on me. You know what happens when a great singer gets to sing great hooks? Songs like Henriette, that's what happens. But wait...at the 1:31 mark. What is that? A bass solo that messes with the time signature a little and sounds like it might have oozed up from one of those Greenwich Village jazz dives? I was shocked and dismayed at first but now I can't get it out of my head.  

4. My Heart's In the Right Place (3:35): I like to listen to musical instruments that were played by humans. Drums, pianos, guitars. Horns. Especially horns. Brass that is too locked onto the note is actually difficult to listen to for me. It's too harsh and mechanical. I want to hear the notes glissando in and out a little (not high school marching band in and out, but you get the idea). Don't get me wrong, Olson is locked in to the pitch completely, but he's breathing and you can hear it. Pro-Tools users take a lesson from this ― you can "repair" the humanity right out of a song, even if your own heart is in the right place. It is utterly refreshing to listen to a middle-8 with just a basic rim-shot drum beat, an acoustic bass and a simple trumpet line. Music that actually breathes is such a good thing.

5. I Don't Really See You Anymore (2:42): Just vocals and bass opens this one as I look out my window onto a perfectly cloudy autumn day with orange leaves on the trees and brown ones on the ground. This song is as good as any standard written and performed in the last 100 years. If you're looking for a song to remind you how messed up your love life is, the feel and emotion of this is as good as anything you've heard before.

6. Miss Disregard (3:04): So in the previous song I'm all chuffed that Ms. Price is really missing me whilstLake Street Dive wistfully wishing I'd give her a ring or something. So much for that in this one. Three times in the first forty seconds she's telling me she is completely and totally and utterly done with me. Fine. I'm glad you're feeling so good about yourself. Oh wait, unlike most other things, this isn't about me. I got clued in to that by the she's "too old" and I'm "too cool" bit. And who is she trying to convince anyway? Herself maybe?  

7. Elijah (3:12): If Rickie Lee Jones had been able to overcome her demons and write uptempo pop music, this would have been a huge hit for her. As it is, this is another really great song that will never get the exposure it deserves because it's kind of hard for accountants to dance to. I defy you to find a song, anywhere, that describes a relationship as an isthmus. Go ;head, I dare ya. By the way, pay attention to what Calabrese does on the drums here. The cat's got some feel, especially during the outro.

8. Funny Not To Care (3:50): Pay attention to the mix in the beginning of this one. It's a simple―but cool―trick that brings Ms. Price's emotions into sharp focus. While you're listening to the mix effects, listen to the vocals themselves and you'll hear singing that you'll never hear on a TV game show no matter how hard you try to believe you will. There's an interesting slap-back reverb on the percussion (especially toward the end) that echoes the effects used on the vocals in the beginning and really adds to the feel of the tune rather than becoming the reason for the tune. A really nice job with the production on this one.

9. Neighbor Song (4:32): Stark and lonely is the best way to describe this one that's about apartment living on a very shallow level and loneliness on every other level. When I was a kid I'd listen to jazz and pop albums from people who wore sharp clothes and spoke about sophisticated things and wondered if I'd ever get to be like them. Then I spent the next 40-odd years wearing denim pants and chukkas on my feet, and now I wonder if I'll be as sophisticated as the people who played this song for me. I doubt it, but I can hope.

10. Got Me Fooled (3:33): I still haven't heard any "country" yet. Of course, I'm still waiting for a bad song too, and I haven't heard one of those either. But maybe in this one I'm hearing a little Drive-By Truckers, or even some subdued Alabama Shakes, but, no wait, it's just Lake Street Dive turning it up a little bit. Speaking of subdued, the answer in the chorus has got Subdudes written all over it, so once again our friends from Massachusetts are literally all over the map.

11. We All Love the Same Songs (3:53): A song about being a touring band in the post-Big-Label era, you could translate this song to any aspect of your relationships. Next time you're taking a road trip put this one on the playlist. At the 1:04 mark there's a keyboard riff that happens once that reminds me of another song I just can't place. I'm sending a KEF tee-shirt and another cool little gift to the first person who correctly identifies it for me before I lose my mind. I brought in musical reinforcements and we thought it might have been Marvin Gaye's Too Busy Thinking About My Baby but it's not, so help a guy out here willya? There's also a great horn section on the back-end of this one: sophisticated and forceful without being over-the-top and in-your-face and other hyphenated phrases.

12. Don't Make Me Hold Your Hand (reprise) (0:38): They say if you don't want all of your music to sound like Led Zeppelin you need to keep the drummer out of the room when you're mixing. The same should be said about keeping the recording engineer out of the room as well.

13. My Speed (4:51): Great vocal interplay here between someone I assume is Michael Calabrese (the credits don't specify) and Price. The drums also sound way better on this track than in the previous 11 tracks. I'm not sure why engineers think the lower the tech on the drums the higher the authenticity (or is it maybe that good mics are too expensive?) but for as much as I love this album, I'd love it even more if the drums had been recorded throughout the set like they were on this track.

 

Lake Street Dive is best listened to:

  • • In as quiet an environment as possible so you don't miss the delightful subtleties of Rachael Price's voice
  • • With one of them fancy Cosmopolitan drinks with all the sweet flavors that mask the alcohol
  • • At a party with limited invitations, like just one other significant person
  • • The colder and nastier the weather, the better

 

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of KEF or its employees.