New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: noir soul

J Hacha De Zola’s New Noir Soul Album Nails the Pervasive Darkness of the Lockdown Era

The loosely interconnecting theme of crooner J Hacha De Zola‘s new album East of Eden – streaming at Bandcamp – is estrangement and loss. Or, being cast from a good place into hell. He’s flirted with soul music before, through the prism of Nick Cave, but here he takes his deepest plunge into the most noir side of the style. The Doors are also an obvious influence, often to the point of homage. But this album is more of a mashup than a straight-up ripoff, testament to the quality of Hacha De Zola’s influences.

The album’s first track is Faded: imagine Cave backed by the Dap-Kings at their darkest, or Gato Loco. That band especially comes to mind since it’s their leader, Stefan Zeniuk who takes the smoky bass sax solo right before the ending. Jerry Ramos handles guitars (and also bass, drums and keys) along with Maxwell Feinstein, plus Joe Exley on tuba and Indofunk Satish on trumpet.

Lost Space is a brooding nocturnal mashup of Morrison Hotel-era Doors, Ventures spacerock and luridly simmering 60s soul. Which Way – as in “which way is the river” – is set to a slow, menacing psychedelic soul vamp, Isaac Hayes gone down the goth hole.

The album’s title track keeps the dark night of the vintage soul going – staccato reverb guitar, smoke from the sax – and mashes it up with Bulgarian folk, Lubomir Smilenov adding layers of stark kaval, gadulka and gaida, Zeniuk prowling around in the lows.

A Viral Spring is closer to the immersive low-register minor-key roar of Gato Loco: “Gotta get out, get away,” the bandleader finally hollers. Ramos’ tremolo organ enhances the Doors feel in Shadows on Glass: with the horns, it could be the lost good track from The Soft Parade.

Zeniuk’s growl contrasts with swirling organ and that persistent, pointillistic soul guitar in That Pleading Tone. Sad Song has an unexpected reggae undercurrent along with the retro soul atmosphere.

Southwestern gothic, trip-hop and symphonic Gato Loco menacingly blend together in Green and Golden. The album’s final cut is the quasi-bolero Meet Me: the addition of the Bulgarian instruments is a neat touch. In its own twistedly stylized way, this album really captures the grim uncertainty of the world since March of 2020.

More Dark Retro Soul From Nick Waterhouse

Nick Waterhouse has been one of the prime movers in the retro soul movement for over a decade. His latest album Promenade Blue – streaming at Bandcamp – is a welcome addition to that consistently strong, purist body of work, focusing more on the noir side of that sound than usual here. You know the drill: reverb on everything, harmony singers who punch in on the chorus, trebly guitars and melodic bass playing through vintage amps, and nonstop catchy hooks.

With the opening track, Place Names, Waterhouse reinvents pre-Motown soul with stark strings in lieu of the kind of wafting orchestral sonics that Phil Spector would have used. And Waterhouse is more of a crooner than most artists from that era. At about four minutes, the song gives him a chance to chill and reflect on better times…as those of us who remember the glory days before March 16, 2020 have probably been doing in the time since.

The Spanish Look doesn’t have anything remotely Spanish about it, although it does have a lot of fevered Elvis in it, hey heh, mmm hmmm. Waterhouse goes back to a roughhewn, vampy early 60s milieu with Vincentine, complete with tantalizingly brief, blazing Chicago blues guitar breaks.

He paints a doomed, down-and-out Tom Waits tableau in the next track, Medicine, over a Lynchian guitar twang. Very Blue is the album’s best song, a gorgeous early 60s Orbison noir song complete with desperately hammering piano, bittersweet major/minor changes….and flurrying early ELO strings. “I remember trying hard just to wake you up,” Waterhouse intones – and the rest is history.

Elvis goes to see the gypsy in Silver Bracelet, set to a tinkly Vegas noir backdrop. Promene Bleu, a quasi title track, makes for a tasty instrumental mashup of Django Reinhardt and oldschool soul with a smoky tenor sax break. The noir tropes reach parody pitch in Fugitive Lover – gruff baritone sax, fire-and-brimstone gospel imagery repurposed as crime jazz, hook-and-ladder guitar riffage, the works.

Waterhouse goes back to primitive mode for Minor Time – as in “was your major, but you made the change” – and then picks up the pace with the quasi-surf Santa Ana 1986. Turns out Waterhouse is a California Man, just like Roy Wood. The album’s final cut is To Tell, the great missing b-side to ELO’s Showdown. If you like the standard noir tropes, if you miss Twin Peaks, this is your jam. Less devoted fans may find this on the monochromatic side. But maybe that’s the way Waterhouse wants it – and if so, that’s cool.

A Picturesque, Psychedelic New Instrumental Soul Album From the Menahan Street Band

Of all the oldschool soul groups that followed Sharon Jones’ ascendancy out of New York in the mid-zeros, Menahan Street Band were the most distinctive, psychedelic and also the darkest. Nobody did noir soul in New York like these guys. And they didn’t even have a singer. It’s been a long time between albums for them, but that’s because everybody in the band is also involved with other projects, or at least was before the lockdown. Their long-awaited new album The Exciting Sounds of Menahan Street Band lives up to its title and is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening number, Midnight Morning, sums up how these guys work. It’s a steady oldschool 70s groove, bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Thomas Brenneck’s twinkling keys and sheets of organ over the graceful, understated rhythm section of guest bassist “Bosco Mann” – hmmm, now who could that be – and drummer Homer Steinweiss. But the gently gusting harmonies from Leon Michels’ tenor sax and Dave Guy’s trumpet are more bracing than they are balmy.

Regular bassist Nick Movshon takes over with a spare, trebly hollow-body feel on the second track, Rainy Day Lady, Brenneck’s sparse, eerily Satie-esque piano exchanging with the horns and Michels’ organ as the sun pushes the clouds away. They completely flip the script with The Starchaser, a gritty, tensely cinematic, Morricone-ish tableau driven by Brenneck’s trebly, careening guitar and Michels’ trailing sax lines.

Silkworm rises out of dubwise trip-hop mystery with Brenneck on keening portamento synth along with the horns. Cabin Fever is surreal fuzztone Afrobeat; after that, the band return to enigmatic oldschool slow jam territory with Rising Dawn and its blazing layers of guitar.

The album’s most tantalizingly short interlude is Glovebox Pistol, a slinky desert rock theme in wee-hours deep Brooklyn disguise. Likewise, Queens Highway is a slow, spacious after-midnight miniature.

Michels’ organ swirls, the horns waft and Brenneck’s layers of regal soul chords permeate the next track, Snow Day. Brian Profilio takes over the drums on the cheery, dub-inflected miniature Parlour Trick. Mike Deller’s Farfisa loops and washes filter over a funky strut in The Duke, Ray Mason’s trombone beefing up the brass. Stepping Through Shadow has a wistful tiptoe pulse and elegant Stylistics jazz chords.

Devil’s Respite is the album’s best track, a darkly anthemic vamp with couple of unexpected tarpit interludes before the brass kick back in again. They close the record with There Was a Man, a slow, fond 12/8 ballad without words with the feel of a late 60s classic soul instrumental like The Horse. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2021 page here – and there’s going to be one. Spring is coming to New York right now, and it’s about time!

High-Voltage African and American Sounds From Central Park to the River

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80.’s first song this past evening at Central Park Summerstage was Expensive Shit. As a literal, graphic condemnation of wretched capitalist excess and status-grubbing, it has few equals. Fela Kuti’s son and principal heir to the family Afrobeat legacy probably spat the word “shit” more times during the roughly ten minutes it took for the band to bubble and rise and finally bring the relentless underlying vamp to a close, than any other act has done at this venue in many years.

Kuti has been fortunate to sidestep the kind of brutal repression his father faced, but he’s no less fearlessly political. His second song, a defiantly triumphant pro-ganja anthem with a fervent refrain of “Lemme see your lighters,” was a red herring. The younger Kuti shares his dad’s withering sarcasm. He welcomed the audience into the era of fake news – “News that’s for profit,” he explained – by reminding that Nigerians knew all about it before it became part and parcel of White House correspondence. A little later on, introducing African Dreams – a broadside against western cultural imperialism – he snidely commented that “Conscious capitalism doesn’t exist.”

Leading an endlessly undulating fourteen-piece band, he took a quick turn on piano and then showed off a bracing, bitingly metallic tone and a no-nonsense, modally tinged sensibility on alto sax. The percussion section emerged stealthily from a quiet thicket and grew toward a stampede as the brass blazed, the electric piano rippled and the two guitars – one a tenor model for extra upper-register tingle – ran jaggedly circling melodies along with a similarly purposeful bass player, throughout what would become an unexpectedly abbreviated set.

Many people in the crowd – especially those who showed up to see the advertised headliner and consequently missed the guy they came for – were surprised not to see Roy Ayers headlining. He’s certainly earned that respect. He also didn’t get much more than three quarters of an hour onstage, leading his four-piece band through expansive takes of Red, Gold and Green, Everybody Loves the Sunshine and finally, Searchin’.

While he saved his most high-voltage playing for a long solo with Kuti’s band, the iconic vibraphonist who more or less invented noir psychedelic soul put on a clinic in purist, seat-of-the-pants tunesmithing, whether with endless volleys of bluesy triplets, rapidfire chromatics or playing against the beat. His band stayed pretty much on low-key, glimmering point, although they lost the crowd when they went off into warpy keytar spacerock and a snapping, popping, faux Bootsy bass solo. They won them back again with a tight drum solo where the guy behind the kit played the whole thing one-handed, then with both sticks behind his back, finally flipping them forward over his shoulders, and kept going without missing a beat.

Hometown opening act Underground System justified the ambition of sharing a bill with two more-or-less iconic acts through the afternoon’s longest set, a mix of original Afrobeat with a more straight-up funk tune or two and also a whirling Italian womens’ rights anthem. Frontwoman/flutist Domenica Fossati really worked up a sweat with her dance moves; if she was a sheik, her last name would be Yerbouti. Guitarist Peter Matson and keyboardist Colin Brown pinged and rippled and threw off a few clouds of toxic noise, drummer Yahoteh Kokayi and percussionist Lollise Mbi held the beast to the rails while the horn section – including baritone saxophonist Maria Christina Eisen and trumpeter Jackie Coleman – smoldered and sputtered and bassist David Cutler ran simple, emphatically circling riffs that would have made Fela proud. Their high point was the brassy Rent Party, something Fossati said the band knew a little something about. From there they segued into their most ominous, dynamically shadowy number of the afternoon.

Afterward, many faces n the crowd went west to the Hudson, where Innov Gnawa – the only Moroccan drum-and-bass trance band in this hemisphere – played what amounted to the afterparty. In more than ten years of concerts at Pier One at 70th Street and the river, it’s impossible to think of another show that had so many people dancing, from toddlers to oldtimers.

And they did that to ancient animist and Muslim themes originally dating from thousands of years ago in sub-Saharan Africa, sung in Arabic to the hypnotic pulse of sintir bass lute and cast-iron qraqab castanets. This was a slightly smaller subgroup of the band, Moroccan master Hassan Ben Jaafer taking turns with his similarly agile protege Samir LanGus riffing on the low strings. Some of the songs worked a tension between octave notes, others bounced and swayed along with crescendoing call-and-response choruses. As the night went on, Ben Jaafer subtly introduced all sorts of tricky polyrhythms and suspensefully allusive chromatics hinting but never quite crossing into Egypt.

Qraqab player Amino Belyamani sauntered into the dancing melee midway through the show and taught everybody some snazzy moves, complete with a split-second squat in the middle – and by the end of the show, a lot of people had all that pretty cold. Innov Gnawa’s next gig is at Prospect Park Bandshell this Friday night, July 21 at 7:30 PM where they’re opening for wildly popular, microtonal psychedelic Malian band Amadou & Mariam. The next show at Summerstage is tomorrow night, July 17 where 90s noiserock icons and occasional cinematic soundscapers Yo La Tengo hit at around 8. Be aware that there’s an opening act; doors at 6 for those not willing to take chances.

Ivy Meissner Brings Her Lynchian Psychedelic Soul to Brooklyn Saturday Night

If there’s one artist that California songwriter Ivy Meissner most closely resembles, it’s Holly Miranda. That might sound like outrageous hype, but Meissner knows her soul and has a similarly deep dark side. A fantastic band behind her channels fifty years of Americana and soul music, heavy emphasis on the psychedelics. Lots of guitars on this album: besides the bandleader, there’s Julian Cubillos (who also produced). plus the distinctive pastoral jazz composer and big band leader Tom Csatari. Bassist Matt Rousseau and drummer Jay Rudolph keep a slinky, low-key groove going.

Drenched in various shades of reverb, Meissner’s voice shifts from icy nonchalance to cynicism to a torchy but inscrutable menace. She’s playing the album release show for her debut, Platinum Blues – soon to be streaming at Bandcamp –  Saturday night, August 6 at 9 PM at Littlefield. Cover is $10.

That ominousness appears on the horizon with the first echoey, psychedelic layers of guitars and Meisner’s cool, but defiantly direct vocals as the bass rises to punctuate the sudden crescendos in the album’s title track, a vividly heat-drenched nocturne. Cubillos’ masterful, majestically sweeping production completes the picture. Forget Lana Del Ray – this is the real LA noir.

Talk At Me gives the band a chance to work all sorts of judiciously trippy tinges into a simple wah-guitar soul vamp, Meissner’s vocals processed like an extra on the Star Trek Voyager deck – and then suddenly there’s a detour into summery psychedelic folk. An opaquely atmospheric number, The Inkwell blends elements of acid jazz and hip-hop into the mix. The wickedly catchy oldschool soul-tinged 6/8 ballad Martyr is the closest thing to Miranda here – and also brings to mind a vastly underrated ex-Brooklyn songstress, Barbara Brousal. The band keeps the same slow groove going through False Tide, part Mazzy Star haze, part Throwing Muses growl.

A swaying, swirly update on vintage Memphis soul, Shelby features an artfully fluttery horn chart played by multi-reedmen Casey Berman, Levon Henry and Tristan Cooley from Csatari’s Uncivilized chamber jazz group. Hysteria Wisteria juxtaposes Meissner’s most sultry vocal here against Csatari’s playfully unsettled lines, shifting between straight-up soul and uneasy jazz.

The album’s catchiest and most anthemic track – the one that screams out “monster college radio hit” – is New Way to Break, a scruffy update on a classic Muscle Shoals sound. Rousseau’s bubbly bass and some jaunty flute take centerstage in the brief instrumental The Next Big Thing; the album winds up with the brooding ballad Undeserving, Meissner channeling equal parts ache and seduction. It’s seldom that a singer this individualistic has such a great band behind her, or that a band this good gets to back a leader who gives them so much first-class material to sink their teeth into.

Leila Adu Brings Her Darkly Surreal Psychedelic Soul to Williamsburg

Leila Adu sings a singular blend of psychedelic soul and art-rock, with frequent and often disquieting detours into the avant garde. Her music has echoes of Kate Bush, and Amy X Neuburg, and maybe Amanda Palmer, and also draws on Adu’s Ghanian/New Zealander heritage. Her lyrics have a bitingly aphoristic, stream-of-consciousness quality in the same vein as Jane LeCroy. The singer has a brand-new ep, Love Cells – streaming at Bandcamp – and an album release show coming up on June 29 at 7 PM at National Sawdust.  She shares the bill with electronic salad-spinners O Paradiso and the sometimes sepulchrally minimalist, sometimes nebulously intense Nico Turner. Cover is $15.

The ep’s opening, title track is a trip-hop slow-jam number that wouldn’t be out of place in the catalog of another, more famous singer with the same last name. “Find your passion ’cause the world ain’t gonna save you,” she suggests. What’s refreshing about it is that the requisite ka-chunk beat is organic rather than synthetic. Track two, Surrogate Suspect is a surreallistically altered take on a creepy circus rock waltz: “There’s lots of marauding idiots out there, look a gift horse in the mouth,” Adu asserts. For what it’s worth, it may be the only song released this year to mention eating pork pies.

Adu wastes no time shifting to horror movie cadences in Satellite Head, an angst-fueled, richly lyrical escape anthem:

Got no money for a taxi and I don’t have a car
But I’m alive
You put a full stop on my life
I used to run at night, now there is no…
I get up a six, travel a twelve-hour day
But I’m around
I’m forgetting your name, but I’m alive
It’s an adult’s game, it’s not all right
I pray that I don’t crystallize

Adu follows that with Je T’Aime, a solo vocal miniature with jaunty, jazzy, multitracked harmonies.

Horror in Black and White takes a sharp turn back to scampering, phantasmagorical menace, a caustic look at racial tension. Adu brings the album full circle, back to loopy trip-hop with The City and the Voodoo Lady and its woozy 90s acid jazz vibe. The album’s persistent unease takes a step back here, at least temporarily, Adu’s ambitious lyrics grounded by her uncluttered, precise, direct vocals. This is one of the most intriguing and individualistic short albums to come over the transom in recent months.

The Monophonics Bring Their Darkly Psychedelic Soul Sounds to Brooklyn Bowl

The Monophonics are sort of a more psychedelic west coast counterpart to the Dap-Kings, masters of all things darkly slinky and soulful. They get extra props for starting their career as an all-instrumental band: it wasn’t until fairly recently that they even bothered with vocals. But that’s a good thing, because it adds yet another trippy dimension to their ominous grooves. They’ve got a new album, Sound of Sinning due out soon, which will no doubt end up with the rest of their catalog at their Bandcamp page. They’ve also got a Brooklyn Bowl show coming up on April 15 at around 9, with the similarly slinky, groove-driven Afrobeat/psychedelic funk band Ikebe Shakedown opening the night at 8. Cover is $12.

The new album opens with Lying Eyes – an original, not the cheesy 70s hit by the Eagles – setting a well-traveled 60s noir garage guitar hook to a jaunty, shuffling soul-clap beat. It gets darker and trippier as it goes along, with hints of dub. Frontman/organist Kelly Finnigan’s raindrops-on-the-keys attack and gruffly impassioned vocals rise above an echoey backdrop, part Zombies, part noir soul, on the title track.

The slowly swaying 6/8 soul ballad La La La Love Me is straight out of 1967, right down to the reverb on all the instruments…but with a creepy undercurrent. Promises is a killer update on late 60/early 70s Rare Earth that adds reverbtoned depth and menace missing from the era’s original stuff. Then the band returns to a brooding nocturnal ambience with Falling Apart, guitarist Ian McDonald alternating between bright, Memphis tinged licks and dark-water chorus-box lines against a backdrop of period-perfect strings and brass.

Drummer Austin Bohlman propels Hanging On with a tight latin soul pulse, up to a darkly rising brass chart anchored by trumpeter Ryan Scott – and then they channel Jethro Tull for a few bars, an unexpectedly droll touch. Strange Love has a Spectorish majesty, Myles O’Mahony’s precise, hollowbody-toned bass dancing over the string section, bells and growly baritone sax. Find My Way Back Home artfully pairs watery guitar and airy organ for what sounds like a prototype for jazz-inflected 70s Stylistics art-soul balladry

They follow that with Holding Back Your Love, the hardest-hitting, most direct song here, infused with McDonald’s fuzztone Yardbirds riffage. Too Long follows a similarly straightforward groove, but a slow-burning, menacingly nocturnal one with a towering noir soul arrangement. The final track, Everyone’s Got is a surreal mashup of trip-hop, Lee Hazlewood southwestern gothic and oldschool soul. The Monophonics have been touring with Galactic and probably blowing that band off the stage, night after night. Fans of the dark side of soul and psychedelic pop – Clairy Browne and Nick Waterhouse in particular – will love these guys. Not to give away anything that’s going to happen here later this year, but an awful lot of best-of-2015 lists will have this album on it.

Lake Street Dive Returns to Brooklyn After a Killer Doublebill with Sharon Jones

Good Cop: We’re taking over this blog, I tell you. We got to see the best concert of the entire summer, Lake Street Dive and Sharon Jones, out behind the World Financial Center. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Bad Cop: Don’t get all excited now. It’s the first concert we’ve covered here in two months. And this one was back in July.

Good Cop: For awhile I thought we’d always be the scrubs here, but now we’re getting to see the best shows in town. LJ Murphy, Jenifer Jackson, Serena Jost, and now Sharon Jones. So get ready to kick some ass!

Bad Cop: I’m not holding my breath. Lake Street Dive are basically an oldschool soul band with distorted guitar, would you say that pretty much sums them up?

Good Cop: That’s true, but let’s not confuse the audience, the loud guitar doesn’t make the music punk: it’s still soul music with roots in the 1960s. Think Smokey Robinson & the Miracles but with a woman out front, and a lot louder. And Rachael Price, their singer, just gets better and better. It’s like she was good last year but she’s great this year – and she just keeps finding ways to bend her notes more subtly, and belt more powerfully, and cajole and wail and do everything that makes a soul singer worth seeing. There are a million white girls with big voices out there trying to do the American Idol thing, but she’s something special. And the band was amazing. If you missed this show, Lake Street Dive are at the Bell House on Sept 15 at around 9.

Bad Cop: What really shocked me was that Lake Street Dive upstaged Sharon Jones. Which isn’t to say that Sharon Jones was bad – she was as amazing as she always is, which is even more impressive since the poor woman was coming off of chemotherapy and was probably fried just coming back from European tour. But Lake Street Dive drew the bigger crowd. Looking back, they should have headlined. That’s major.

Good Cop: I wouldn’t say that Lake Street Dive upstaged Sharon Jones. They outdrew her. Sharon Jones jumped, and stalked, and slunk across the stage and sweated up a storm. She’s cancer-free and was celebrating that and just glad to be alive, and the band and the audience fed off that energy. It was so heartwarming, I almost cried. But there’s no question that Lake Street Dive were the big draw.

Bad Cop: Interesting to compare the two crowds. Lake Street Dive: almost all-white, mostly female, monied, Upper West Side. [to Good Cop] Hmmm…could you pass for Upper West Side? Do you iron your hair?

Good Cop: [laughs] Naturally straight. [motions to her forehead] See, bangs!

Bad Cop: OK, I learn something new every day. Sharon Jones’ crowd: as you might expect, more ethnically diverse, more diverse incomewise too, several gaggles of gay Bushwick dudes.

Good Cop: She would have outdrawn Lake Street Dive pretty much anywhere in Notbrooklyn, and definitely in real Brooklyn. But the Bushwick dudes can’t leave Bushwick. Taking selfies in an untrendy neighborhood, no can do. Geotagging is a bitch…

Bad Cop: So let’s count our blessings we weren’t downwind of a bunch of stinky trendoids – and let’s tell the people about what we saw. There was a brass band who opened, who were insufferably boring…

Good Cop: …which might seem like an oxymoron because brass bands are exciting, almost by definition. I mean, why would you be in a brass band if you weren’t an extrovert, right? But this brass band somehow managed to find a way to be really tepid. I basically texted through their whole set. And that went on forever. I kept hoping they’d be done.

Bad Cop: Lack of tunes, that was the issue. But then Lake Street Dive came on and you were happy again.

Good Cop; Very. Cool contrast: intense guitar and vocals, Mike Olson and Rachael Price; slinky groove, Bridget Kearney on bass and Mike Calabrese on drums. Bridget didn’t take any solos like she usually does and that was too bad – but that was ok. A couple of songs had Olson playing trumpet and you’d think that with just trumpet, bass and drums, the sound would be really sketchy and skeletal, but it wasn’t.

Bad Cop: That’s the vocal harmonies. Everybody in the band sings. Did you notice that?

Good Cop: And they were good…

Bad Cop: Part of me wants to say that they have a totally contrived sound: they’ve completely internalized a whole lot of 1960s soul styles. And they’re on a label. Do you think they’re a creation of the marketing department? You know, a very clever imitation of the real thing? You’ve got Lady Gag for the pre-K crowd, Katy Perry for the gradeschoolers and Lake Street Dive for the smart kids?

Good Cop: No label would ever create a band for smart kids because that audience is way too small. And Lake Street Dive have been doing this since way back, before the label.

Bad Cop: OK. I discovered from watching the band this time that Bad Self Portraits, which is a satire of selfie narcissism and the title track from the band’s latest album, was written by Kearney. And I dug her evil chords on Johnny Tanqueray…

Good Cop: …which I love because it’s about this bad dude that no girl can resist, and every girl can relate to. Which might explain the crowd…

Bad Cop: For me the high point was where Rachael would hold the notes for, like, forever. And Rabid Animal, the pissed-off one about moving back to her parents’ basement.

Good Cop: We don’t know if that’s about her or not. I liked the two new songs they played: the slow one with the Beatlesque verse and the rocking Stonesy chorus, then Rachael’s big wounded ballad. The band really took the angst factor all the way up for that one.

Bad Cop: They’re a touring machine. I’m not a fan of pop music in general, as you know, but this band slays me: their songs are so catchy and they do everything right. They don’t waste notes. The songs don’t follow a predictable verse/chorus pattern. The singer is a monster and so is the bass player. And they don’t fall into the phony-gospel American Idol vocal trap.

Good Cop: Ha, they don’t use autotune either. Not that they need it.

Bad Cop: I was wondering when Sharon Jones’ band the Dap-King opened, whether they’d be babying her – especially since they started with that James Brown style intro, you know, the instrumental medley with all the hooks from the hits, and then the two backup singers doing their single and the B-side…

Good Cop: They were awesome! Bouncy wistful tonguetwisting stuff, straight from the bargain bins around 1973 – I mean that in a complimentary way…

Bad Cop: How ironic that stuff that sounds like it would have been a little too obscure to have been a hit back then would be the material a band would want to be playing 40 years later…

Good Cop: Audiences are pickier and more sophisticated now.

Bad Cop: I liked the boomy noir Clairy Browne style ones they did afterward. With a different beat the first one would have been a reggae song.

Good Cop: Wow, I hadn’t thought of that.

Bad Cop: Then Sharon came on and she was on top of her game. Purring and cajoling and strutting and shouting over catchy vamps with tantalizing little breaks for guitar, or baritone sax, or organ.

Good Cop: You’re right, this was kind of a dark set, which surprised me since this was a New York homecoming after the tour, and she’s healthy now, and she took a lot of time to celebrate that. But otherwise the songs were closer to the ones this band made backing Amy Winehouse: lurid and slinky and brooding.

Bad Cop: They’d pick up the pace and bring it down again: a couple of summery ballads, then a rainy-day number. The cover of I Heard It Through the Grapevine was a lot closer to the Tina Turner version. Then there was a catchy original right afterward that was a lot more cheery and bouncy, straight out of a John Waters 1965 scene. The backup singers joined in a lush, early 70s, jazzy number that sounded like the Three Degrees, then the set got gritty again, then there was a funky James Brown medley, Sharon’s long digression about how she’s healthy again, and then they closed with Retreat. Which is not exactly a happy song, and reinforces what you were talking about earlier.

Good Cop: Didn’t they do The Horse?

Bad Cop: Yeah, bits and pieces of that kept bubbling up in more than one song. This band does that a lot. They know every classic soul riff ever written and they can’t resist playing them. Which sometimes leaves you wondering whether they’re playing originals or obscure covers. That by itself proves how closely they nail those oldschool sounds, and of course that extends to the vocals as well.

Good Cop: Which did you end up liking better, Sharon Jones or Lake Street Dive?

Bad Cop: I never thought I’d ever say this, but I thought they were equally good. Although the crowd was annoying.

Good Cop: Yeah, but that’s always the risk you run with these outdoor shows.

Bad Cop: There was that yuppie brutalizing his wife, you remember, that fat girl with the frizzy hair next to us. That douchebag’s annoying nasal voice is all over my recording of the show. Remember, we had to move? I hope she shoots him.

Good Cop: I hope she gets away with it. I’ll give her an alibi!

Bad Cop: Yeah, and then we ended up behind that smelly guy and we had to move again.

Good Cop: Well, at least we had someplace to move to. You have to admit, it has been the best summer ever in this city, hasn’t it? You go back further than me. Can you remember such a great summer here, ever?

Bad Cop [pauses, thinks about it. Guardedly]: There have been excruciating summers where I’ve had more fun. But as far as your basic creature comfort, this summer is as good as I’ve ever seen it and that’s including the last few days which have been nasty. And we’ve got another summer show to relate here, but that’s going to wait til another day.

Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas Bring Out the Demons

Detroit retro soul band Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas are on a roll. Maybe because they’ve been on the road a lot lately, maybe because recording in a real studio rather than on somebody’s protools in a bedroom somewhere is so expensive, they’ve been putting out single tracks and ep’s instead of working on a magnum opus. Their latest ep is appropriately called Demons: it’s as noir as noir soul music gets, and it’s luridly delicious. The whole thing is streaming at- believe it or not – Paste.

The title track is a false start, a good song masked by cliched, corporate production, a tentative misstep toward Dr. Luke territory. You hear this and you ask yourself, what in the world were they thinking? They’re such purists, and this is so far from that. But the rest of the songs are scary-good, starting with Caught Up. Hernandez has a distinctive voice that can be sweet and gently cajoling one second, but the next she’s flashing you the boxcutter up her sleeve. This one has a defiant feel. And it’s more of a dark garage rock song, sort of a cross between Clairy Browne and Sallie Ford, with an ominous bridge where the drums get mysterious and boomy, then a snarling guitar solo.

Big Town is noir to the core. It starts out with a simple bass/piano/baritone sax intro and builds from there to a gorgeously wounded turnaround, Hernandez glad that she has such a big city where she can hide away in her misery. The Hawaiian guitar solo out is completely bizarre, and just as creepy. Shadow Boy seems to be a darkly comforting shout-out to quiet, sad people whose lives are more interior than exterior; the band stalks almost imperceptibly up to an allusive ba-BUMP rhythm, lit up with apprehensive repeaterbox guitar and Hernandez’ lingering vocals. The last song is a pulsing, minor-key number where Hernandez’ character is so hot to trot that she’s been sleeping with somebody’s girlfriend AND somebody’s boyfriend  – she delivers this news as a come-on over a creepy funeral organ groove that takes a detour into reggae for awhile. There are a ton of bands rehashing mid-60s soul sounds, but none of them sound anything like Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas. Even with that dud of a first track, this is one of the best short albums of the year.