MUSIC REVIEWS: Lee Fields, Miniature Tigers, Staff Benda Bilili, A Shoreline Dream, Five Corners Quintet
Only two tunes in and Lee Fields and The Expressions’ My World already had my ultra-white suburban booty grooving: “Do You Love Me (Like You Say You Do)” and “Love Comes And Goes” move with cutting beats, upfront horns, Lee Fields’ wail and backing vocals from The Del-Larks. Digging the soft electric guitar of “Honey Dove” and “These Moments”-though neither really goes anyplace for me-The Expressions make good on “Money I$ King,” this one’s got it all, the guitar, the voice, backing vocals, organ, strings, a horn arrangement that’s more than just bleating solo lines and the bossa-nova like, great-backing vocal lament of “My World Is Empty Without You.”
The title track sees the first use of drums and bass in a real funky way; the band’s certainly saying something on this slightly dangerous tune. “Ladies” has some great organ, wha-wha guitar and a groove that few bands can achieve in this day and age. Fields is pretty much masterful here, spitting out chock-full lines along with long liquid passages about those ‘lovely ladies’.
Lush strings compliment his vocal showcase on the slow “The Only One Loving You” and “Last Ride,” the last tune of the eleven here’s is a solid guitar led instrumental.
My World is a classic Truth and Soul Production from the formidable production/label owners Jeff Silverman and Leon Michels. This is great soul with Field and his Expressions in the mold of The Stylistics and The Delfonics, but carving out territory all their own.
For an album that sounds like it might be a little rough around the edges, Tell it to the Volcano is quite delicate, with clear lyrics, and nothing gimmicky or over the top. It’s a very refreshing album, just good, clean music. Much of it contains simple guitar riffs, catchy and easy on the ears. The irony in the music is the juxtaposition between the bright melodies and the actual words. The titles of the songs are rough and tragic sounding, quite opposite of the songs themselves. “Hot Venom,” for example, has the duo singing in various tenor tones with light and bubbly electronics bopping in the background. Coupled with “Hot venom is mixing with my blood/I can feel it on my fingers and taste it on her tongue,”…well you can imagine what they are getting at. “Tell it to the Volcano,” the title track, is upbeat and feels like a rock and roll luau. I actually just plain adored listening to this album. It’s sing-a-long worthy and head-boppable. Almost every song has some sort of kooky hook that snares you, and catching a different cracked-out lyric with each listen gives you a new perspective every time. They’ll be coming to the Music Hall of Williamsburg with Kevin Devine on June 7th, and I think seeing them would be more than proper. It’s been a while since an album proves that the less-is-more theory actually works, and Miniature Tigers do it with shocking composure and quiet brilliance. You’ll want this album.
My favorite record label in the world, Crammed Discs, has introduced another world class talent to the international music scene from the Congo. Staff Benda Bilili are a truly unique ensemble. Composed of a group of paraplegic street musicians who live around the grounds of the zoo in Kinshasa, Congo, they achieve tight harmonies and rhythmic melodies that convey a melancholy nonchalance. Their voices convey a storied, unique identity. At times they’re similar to Cuban son, other times they’re more like Jorge Ben. They display a lot of versatility on their latest release, Tres Tres Fort. Their title doesn’t false advertise. They are extremely powerful. Four senior singer/guitarists sitting on tricycles, occasionally dancing on the floor of the stage, arms raised in joyful supplication, are the core of the band, backed by a younger, all-acoustic rhythm section pounding out tight beats. Over the top of this are weird, infectious guitar-like solos performed by a 17 year-old prodigy on a one-string electric lute he designed and built himself out of a tin can. They are definitely unique.
When it comes to all things melancholy, no front man or band comes to mind other than UK’s guru of gloom Robert Smith and his goth pop band The Cure. With songs like “Killing An Arab,” and “Boys Don’t Cry,” anything these tortured artists release is guaranteed to make one somber. Therefore, when a Denver-based alternative rock band is compared to The Cure, you’re expecting to shed some tears. Too bad they were tears of boredom. A Shoreline Dream’s second full-length album, Recollections of Memory, is a never ending cyclone of dragging, exhausting, mind-numbing ballads that are heavily instrumental, lacking in powerful vocals, and empty from poetic lyrics that could attempt to convince any listener to continue. “Manhattan Beach” has some promise with an ethereal, haunting voice mastered by Ryan Policky. Sadly, the track has little substance and loses its charm thanks to a repeating spiraling melody, a tortuous theme found throughout the entire album. “Seattle” goes darker with persistent drumming by Sean Merrell, but the song’s angry psychedelic beat did nothing to make one pay attention. “NeverChanger” featuring German producer/artist Ulrich Schnauss was the only track worth listening to, with Eric Jeffries and Policky slowly pulling the strings from their guitars, along with dreamy, hypnotic vocals that take one out of a crowded arena and into a relaxing state of mind. Sadly, one song isn’t enough to make anyone stick around for more. A Shoreline Dream’s expertise in dense, shoe gazing rock is a hard pill to swallow and not nearly a dream worth remembering.
Smooth, savvy, seductive and charming is the new album by Five Corners Quintet. Moving with all the stylish fury of a modish attitude, flutes often chirp their way into fashionable yet subdued coolness. The jazz swing of drums is sweltering and uninhibited. Having formed in 2005 and hailing from Helsinki, Finland, this jazz band is hardcore, funky, and crazy righteous. Offering up a bit of a golden era jazz sound, they create a dizzying allure. The wild-eyed dance rhythms make the album thrilling and terribly fun. Raw and stripped pianos bounce around a wicked samba palpitation of flittering flutes that make yesteryear jazz freshly innovative. The pure musicianship and originality is astounding. The music moves with such rhythmic style and conviction that it elevates moods. “Habib’s Habit” willfully falls into a pure jazz tightness, then bellowing trumpets surge above. The piano moves with an abated slyness. After the groove loosens up, the song unfolds into elegant mellow harmonies. It is no wonder that The Five Corners Quintet were awarded two Emma Awards which are equivalent to the Grammy’s in 2009. “Hot Rod” moves with all the dramatics of watching a tight rope walker. Grace, balance and drama all intertwine in this upbeat pop jazz explosion that moves with a delightful jaunt of hip-cat swing. The Five Corners Quintet gets the honor of uplifting the genre which is not easy to do.