Some music you can listen to pretty much anytime. Deena Shoshkes‘ music is what you might want to hear when you DON’T want to hear noiserock…or eardrum-smashing jazz improvisation…or doom metal. It’s upbeat and fun and cheery without being bland. For the longest time, Shoshkes fronted the Cucumbers, one of the defining Hoboken bands of the 80s and 90s. Her chirpy high soprano and irrepressible charm won the group an avid cult following, as well as earning a curmudgeonly backlash from a faction who found the band terminally cute. In the years since, Shoshkes has gotten more in touch with her lower register, has added a tinge of smoke and plenty of welcome nuance to her vocals. She’s opening a historically rich triplebill of cult favorites with her band the Laughing Boys at Union Hall in Park Slope this Friday night, March 20 at 8:30 PM followed by downtown NYC postpunk supergroup Heroes of Toolik and then Hoboken janglerock vets Speed the Plow at around 10:30. Cover is $10.
Shoshkes’ latest album Rock River is streaming at Spotify. Her calling cards are craft and a sense of humor. On one level, she takes what does does completely seriously, but she doesn’t seem to take herself seriously at all, and the result is infectious. After awhile, it’s hard to be curmudgeonly, you just start bobbing your head and humming along. A droll spin of the maracas here; a lush waterfall of twelve-string jangle there; a little silly P-Funk portamento synth; references to Brill Building pop, vintage C&W, the majestic clang of the Church in the 80s, even 90s trip-hop in the spirit of edgier bands like Madder Rose.
Her longtime fellow Cucumber Jon Fried adds southern-fried [resisting the urge to say cucumber!} flavor to the punchy opening track, My Own Advice. Longtime Hoboken (ok, ex-Hoboken) luminaries Rebecca Turner and Elena Skye make a Spectoresque chorus on All She Wrote, which sounds like a L’il Mo country crowdpleaser. There are a couple of pensively swaying ventures into Tex-Mex balladry. There’s a soaring country anthem spiced with Jonathan Gregg’s washes of pedal steel that wouldn’t be out of place in the Amy Allison songbook. There’s a saucy organ-and-horn-driven soul groove. Other tracks channels watery new wave and wistful chamber pop. And just when Shoshkes has you thinking that all this is about the hooks and the arrangements, she zings you with a line like “Lost a lot a long time ago in the backdrop of her eyes.”
You aren’t going to hear her sing about how the remains of the Fukushima reactors keep leaking into the Pacific, and that it’s going to kill every living thing on the planet if we don’t stop the deluge. Expecting her to do a song about the Pentagon trying to engineer regime change in Russia – and inciting a global nuclear holocaust – would be a bit of a stretch. Shoshkes seems more content working the corners of a song, intricately and thoughtfully, and having so much fun with it that it makes you jealous. You can get that kind of jealous this Friday in Brooklyn.