8 Mar 2016

Side Pony by Lake Street Dive

From The Sampler, 7:30 pm on 8 March 2016
Lake Street Drive

Lake Street Drive Photo: Danny Clinch

Nick Bollinger steps to the retro-soul of Boston's Lake Street Dive.

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When this band from Boston turned up last year – to play at the Auckland Arts Festival and Womad – they made a strong impression, though few had heard of them before. It was evident that here was a band who had already put in their ten thousand hours.

They are a four piece – drums, guitar, vocals and double bass, two men, two women – all of whom first met as students at the New England Conservatory Of Music. While they were there they honed their jazz chops but out in the world, they have directed those chops mostly at different R&B styles. ‘Godawful Things’, which opens the album, could be some 60s Motown single, while ‘Call Off Your Dogs’ might have come from Philadelphia in the disco 70s.

It makes a certain sense that Lake Street Dive find their comfort zone in these retro styles, which dominate their new album Side Pony. Back in the golden age of soul, a lot of the session musicians – at studios like Philly International or Motown – came from jazz backgrounds. The songs may have been simple but the playing was sophisticated and slick. And this music could be described in much the same way: soulful pop with a virtuoso accent.

All four members write individually, with singer/frontwoman Rachel Price contributing just one of the twelve songs in this set. That leaves Price in a position of having to inhabit whatever personas and scenarios the other members create for her. And while Price seems capable of wrapping her supple, soulful voice around just about anything, some of the songs are more worthy than others of the emotion she expends on them. The most soulful performance for me is ‘Mistakes’: one of the more low-key and, perhaps tellingly, it’s the one song Price wrote herself.

There’s at least one other lovey ballad here, ‘So Long’, by bass player Bridget Kearney. To my mind she’s the group’s most consistent writer, and was responsible for the great title tune of their last album ‘Bad Self Portraits.’ There’s a depth to her songs that can be lacking in some of the other material, which can seem a bit like pastiche.

While the musicianship perhaps outstrips the originality, there is plenty here to be entertained by.

Songs played: : Godawful Things, Spectacular Failure, Call Off Your Dogs, Saving All My Sinning, Mistakes

Side Pony is available on Nonesuch