Album Review: Bad Self Portraits by Lake Street Dive
Very Good, Based on 9 Critics
NOW Magazine - 80 Based on rating 4/5
Brooklyn's Lake Street Dive pull off retro while still sounding very contemporary. Perhaps that's because the band's various influences (classic pop/rock, R&B and jazz) are funnelled through the songwriting of three members and the pipes of the fourth - powerful vocalist Rachael Price - resulting in their own sound. Many of the best songs (including the opening title track) were written by Bridget Kearney, whose slow, creeping bass line on Better Than is addictive.
Formed while its four members were studying at the New England Conservatory, Lake Street Dive was originally conceived as a “free-country” side project, portending something like a fusion between Ornette Coleman and Dolly Parton. Yet the group's sound has meandered away from that initial concept like all the best musical improvisations tend to. The band gained early YouTube attention by serenading passersby on Boston street corners with jazz-inflected arrangements of classics like “I Want You Back” and “Faith,” and their new album's relative lavishness feels miles away from those early DIY micro-concerts.
The originally Boston-based band Lake Street Dive (now headquartered in Brooklyn) is poised for the big time. After attracting 1.2 million hits on YouTube for a sidewalk rendition video cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, recorded in 2012, the band’s star track has been ascending rapidly. Not only is the band now playing the likes of Carnegie Hall, the group, appeared last year as part of an all-star concert to promote the Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis.
Lake Street Dive, a Brooklyn-based four-piece emerging from the jazzy enclaves of New England College of Music, was originally conceived as a pop side-project. With an unusual lineup including vocalist Rachael Price, upright bassist Bridget Kearney, trumpet/guitar player Mike Olson and drummer Mike Calabrese, the band was named after a street of dive bars in Minneapolis. And Lake Street Dive first gained a reputation for that same kind of relentless energy that a band needs to hold a rowdy bar crowd’s attention.
Bad Self Portraits is eclectic Boston band Lake Street Dive's third studio album, and the group's sixth release overall. Produced by Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter, Erin McKeown), the album comes two years after the group's covers EP, Fun Machine. Rather than revisit that album's neat gimmick of a jazz-soul band covering contemporary pop songs, Lake Street Dive instead delve into a substantial batch of their own blue-eyed-soul and Southern rock-inflected originals.
From Lake Street Dive’s initial presence on TV and radio, one might have guessed their major influences included Manhattan Transfer. But it turns out that, even though this foursome is jazz-trained, the references permeating Bad Self Portraits lean far more toward Motown, Stax, Muscle Shoals and Tapestry-era Carole King, not to mention the British Invasion. It also turns out that combining earthiness and soul, girl-group harmonies and nods to early rock adds up to charm incarnate without cloying cuteness.
Lake Street Dive's initials may spell "LSD," but the Massachusetts-bred quartet are mostly tripping on Motown-meets-Muscle Shoals soul nostalgia, while frontwoman Rachael Price's big voice triggers flashbacks of Amy Winehouse and her forebears. These are all pluses on their breakout LP, which shows a band so in command of its style that it rarely feels like shtick – and even when it does, it's tight, fun and feisty. It helps that they write and arrange with sharp hooks, dramatic dropouts and sleight-of-hand grooves; see the shimmy-shaking "You Go Down Smooth," which rides Bridget Kearney's strutting bass line, and the hand-clap-powered gear-shifter "Seventeen," shot through with guitarist Mike Olson's nasty electric-blues riffs.
Lake Street Dive Bad Self Portraits (Signature Sounds) Boston soul revivalists Lake Street Dive are technically proficient and refined to the point that it's alarming. Sweet as the sticking points on their national, 2010 debut ("Don't Make Me Hold Your Hand," "Got Me Fooled") and ensuing covers EP two years later ("Rich Girl," "Faith," "Let Me Roll It") were, the New England Conservatory graduates appeared to be holding something back. Until now.