Release Date: Feb 19, 2016
Record label: Nonesuch
It seems ridiculous to be able to say that Lake Street Dive is a 12-year-old band, but that’s true—technically. Its members (Rachael Price, Bridget Kearney, Mike Olson and Mike Calabrese) did indeed start occasionally performing together under the Lake Street Dive name in 2004, but the group was no one’s top priority. And it didn’t become that priority until 2011 or so, still several years before their Signature Sounds breakout, 2014’s Bad Self Portraits.
As comfortable playing the heartbroken as the heartbreaker, Lake Street Dive singer Rachael Price, with gospel pipes and an old-school jazz sensibility, manages to capture love in our post-postmodern age – all the whimsy and wistfulness, our curious clumsiness, the velleities and the rash decisions and the regrets and lack thereof – better than any of our sterile chart-topping pop songstresses. On the lovelorn So Long she doesn’t compete with Adele so much as stand shoulder-to-side pony with Sinatra. On the raucous and candid Hell Yeah she reminds us that she isn’t a “sex symbol” (a term bankrupt in 2016) so much as a lightning rod for a young century’s sexual static energy.
And here they are. Signed to a bigger label (Nonesuch), working with alt-country producer du jour Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton’s Traveller, Sturgil Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds of Country Music), and leaning harder-than-ever into their ‘70s-inspired rock and soul grooves than ever before. Sure, some may call the rise of Boston’s Lake Street Dive something next to meteoric, but the jazz-bred foursome are only just now on the cusp of something much bigger, as their quirky cover songs and their friendship with the likes of Stephen Colbert have lead to them becoming regulars on NPR rotations but not exactly household names.
Centered on the warm, highly resonant vocals of Rachael Price, Boston's Lake Street Dive began their career as an eclectic, adventurous quartet just as likely to play a twangy, Fleetwood Mac song or a Hall & Oates cover as any of their own soulful, jazz- and R&B-influenced originals. However, since their 2010 eponymous debut, Lake Street Dive, which also features guitarist/trumpeter Mike Olson, bassist Bridget Kearney, and drummer Mike Calabrese, have streamlined their approach, whittling their influences down to a handful of touchstones from guitar-soaked Southern rock to buoyant, dance-oriented old-school R&B. On the group's fourth full-length album and Nonesuch Records debut, 2016's Side Pony, they've honed their sound even further, zeroing in on a vintage-inspired, '60s soul aesthetic.
The Boston-born quartet Lake Street Dive has gained a healthy following — from festival crowds to T Bone Burnett — for its exuberant, harmony-rich blend of pop, soul, and jazz. On its fourth record (and debut for the high-pop-art Warner subsidiary Nonesuch), the band doesn’t change things up too much; the only real shift from Lake Street Dive’s previous work is an increased dose of moxie, which the band already had in generous supply. Lead singer Rachael Price’s supple voice leads the way through sassy, spunky tracks like the string-augmented plea “Call Off Your Dogs” and the shimmying cad portrait “Spectacular Failure,” while the laid-back “How Good It Feels” is unexpectedly vulnerable, with Price’s performance making the lyrics’ shift from defiant to glum utterly human.
The title track of Lake Street Dive’s new album Side Pony represents everything appealing and confounding about the band. It’s an insidiously catchy song, with a sound somewhere between 1990s neo-soul and cocktail jazz, featuring lyrics that equate a quirky hairstyle with confidence and independence. It’s not hard to imagine “Side Pony” becoming a left-field hit—an “All About That Bass” for fans of R&B/roots-music revivalists.
The success of soul/R&B revivalists like Alabama Shakes, Sharon Jones and the like have spawned a slew of other bands that are finally getting exposure after years of flying under the radar. These modern groups, dead set on marrying the ‘60s with a few modern touches, seem to be cropping up everywhere nowadays. And Lake Street Dive is among one of the better ones, for the past decade, injecting enough of their own touches into the genre to make it refreshing, cutting their sound with plenty of sweet pop ear candy.