This Brooklyn band is a real hoot. A curious and original mix of power pop and garage rock, with nasal vocals halfway between Bob Dylan and Lou Reed and a Velvet Underground vibe in songs like “Anna Anna Anna,” Retrospectro represents creative New York City at its snottiest. Backing up their simple yet satisfyingly twisted songs are humming layers of acoustic and electric guitars with an element of trance, along with subtle surf licks and organ chords – familiar parts, with recognizable bits of sixties, seventies and nineties styles, making up an altogether fresh sound.
“Sleepwalking” and “Rapid,” which open the CD, are especially catchy. “Peace and Love” and “Anna Anna Anna” are also very good songs, and I liked the closer, “Take It Or Leave It.” The remaining three are weaker. But there’s a lot to like in any handful of this music.
Listen and buy at CD Baby.
Mala Waldron, Always There
Mala Waldron‘s cool, sophisticated work is just the sort of thing that could nudge jazz closer to the mainstream. With hummable melodies, grown-up but accessible chord changes, and a weave of smooth R&B flavor (especially in songs like the ballad “Because Of You” and the up-tempo “Maybe It’s Not So”), some of these tracks should by all rights find a home anywhere that plays the lightweight likes of Alicia Keys. Yet even the smoothest of these tracks, though eminently CD-101-worthy, are real jazz.
That, and Waldron’s superior keyboard skills, should be no surprise considering she’s the daughter of jazz legend Mal Waldron. One of the elder Waldron’s claims to fame was his association with Billie Holliday, and Waldron fille is a supple, fanciful singer who makes everything sound easy. Jazz vocals generally aren’t my favorite corner of the music universe, but Waldron’s are dead-on in tune, pleasingly shaded, easygoing, neither cloying nor precious.
Waldron wrote all the tracks except one, and it’s clear she has a finely calibrated sense of what kind of material is ideal for her voice, although one gets the feeling she could credibly sing, and certainly play, almost anything. Even the fluffy lyrics aren’t bad – and “not bad” is pretty damn good for jazz lyrics. Finally, her imaginative, funky version of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” demonstrates her ability to make unexpected material her own. If I had to pick a favorite track, it would be the impassioned ballad “Proud Lion,” which Waldron dedicates to her father. “Proud Lion/think he knew deep inside/that I never did like/long goodbyes.” Nothing lightweight about that.
Being such a knockout on both piano and vocals, it’s only fitting Waldron should have ace musicians backing her up, and bassist Miriam Sullivan, guitarist Steve Salerno and drummer Michael “T.A” Thompson are every bit her match. In fact one of the CD’s best points is the organic sound of the band, as if they’d played together for a million years.
Roberta Chevrette, Miss America
Roberta Chevrette makes a powerful statement with the first two songs on her new CD, Miss America. The instrumental introduction to “Country Girl” establishes her and her band’s bluesgrass credentials. The song itself is a two-chord chant about a girl the singer admires – an older sister or someone in that capacity, who “has this easy/way with words…she’ll tell me little sister/would you quit your worrying/you know you can do/anything that you want” – but then comes the kicker: “and i remember back/to all those years ago/to when she tried to kill me/on the living room floor/with a pair of scissors/in her hand.” Then the song closes with a verse about “going out to the country/where i belong” and a dog in the backseat, “to the country/where we feel/complete.” No more mention of the older girl. It’s like a miniature experimental novel in a few verses.
“Every Wind” is even more powerful, a drony Led Zeppelin-style folk song about a relationship going cold, which is the stuff of millions of songs but expressed with exceptional intensity here. Chevrette’s voice, not little-girlie yet usually small and childlike, soars to anguished heights on the choruses.
In “Miss America” the singer rejects artifical glamour in favor of inner beauty; she doesn’t “want to be demure or lovely/sweet or nice/or sit back quietly/while others think for me.” But then Chevrette goes one step beyond the expected, adding a final line: “i don’t want to be pretty.”
If you’re detecting an Ani DiFranco influence, you’re not imagining it. “Your Words,” in fact, is a poem directed straight at DiFranco, acknowledging a debt. Sounds a little tiresome, I know, but something about Chevrette’s laser-focussed delivery makes it not so. Though the poem swerves into an indictment of Bush’s Iraq war, the political theme is picked up at greater length in the slightly too obvious “Long Long Day.” The minimalist, spoken-word “How Long” is a more effective protest song. And in the midst of it all, the bluegrass romp “Bear Tracks” reminds us that this singer-songwriter isn’t all lasers and ice.
The grim banjo returns in “Anymore,” which features Jefferson Airplane-style harmonies that deepen a plainspoken refrain. “Inside,” like a number of these tracks, is more poem than song, in this case a self-referentially free-associative lyric: “i think i am addicted/to the resonance of chaos…the hectic beauty/of my surroundings/makes me feel/that the world/is the prize.”
This CD takes a couple of listens to appreciate, but it’s well worth it.
Available at CD Baby here.
OUT AND ABOUT: Paul DeCoster (of Bobby Stewart and the Contraires) is turning into a ferocious front man, as evidenced by his show at the Underground Lounge last Saturday night. His mix of 80s pop-rock covers (Eddie Money, Corey Hart) and originals in a similar vein kept the crowd grooving until – well, until they had to quit to make way for a comedy show… Dave Isaacs, up from Nashville, knocked ’em dead at Cornelia Street Cafe last night with his blazing guitar chops and bluesy roots-rock… Last but not least, my own band, Whisperado, plays this Saturday night at Hank’s Saloon (Brooklyn’s infamous “Bucket o’ Blood”) with Coppersonic and The New Heathens. Get there early – the more you’ve drunk, the better we sound!