There is nothing new under the sun, or so they say.
I’m not a big fan of groups that slavishly imitate their influences, but I do love bands with a sense of history and a desire to explore older styles in search of new angles. This obviously establishes a tricky standard – be true to the masters, but not … too true. It’s equally tricky for me as a listener and armchair critic, as well – I might like a contemporary band for the same reasons I liked the bands they’re riffing on, but is there enough in the way of originality going on? As I’ve noted before, the CDs I like and those I think are great aren’t always the same ones.
Which brings me around to today’s TunesDay topic – the recent explosion of artists and bands taking their cues from ’60s acts, especially girlpop groups. I have to admit that I didn’t see this coming. Musical trends will cycle, but the period is usually closer to 20-25 years than 40-45. In any case, there are a lot of fun bands out there who clearly love the likes of The Supremes, The Ronettes and Dusty Springfield. So let’s listen to a few of them. As we do, the question before the class is whether the artist is critically worthy or merely fun.
Let’s start with everybody’s favorite trainwreck, Amy Winehouse. I’m not sure if she’s in jail, in rehab, on trial or running loose this week, but it’s hard to ignore her success as an artist. I’m impressed by how she’s made something fresh out of the old sounds, but you may disagree. Here she is performing the title track of her smash CD, Back to Black.
Another artist hammering at the buzz machine these days is Duffy, who I frankly don’t know much about. There’s something pretty soulful about “Mercy,” though.
I have to be honest about this next one – Nicole Atkins’ voice just blows me away. I was hooked the first time I heard “Just the Way it Is,” and nothing I’ve heard since has done anything but confirm that first impression. There’s an intermittently torchy quality to some of her work that lends it a little more in the way of depth and darkness than we see with some of her neo-contemporaries. This is “Maybe Tonight” in all its joyous innocence. Wow.
One of the absolute coolest bands on the road today is Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. Some criticize them for essentially being an unreconstructed tribute to an age gone by, and it’s true that they’re not looking to invent anything new. But they’re so damned good at their brand of Brooklyn neo-soul that they force you to ask how important originality really is. In an era where there really isn’t as much innovation as there has been in the past, is it good enough to simply knock people’s socks off? Here’s the band in the studio working on “Answer Me.”
My most recent wayback discovery is London’s Lucky Soul, a band that comes off like The Ronettes meet The Supremes, filtered through Saint Etienne’s less trippy moments. And in spots, there’s even a touch of something that reminds me of Heather Nova. The Saint Etienne influence is especially important – Ali Howard owes a lot to Sarah Cracknell, and plays the blonde ingenue role just about as well as does the divine Sarah on the band’s fantastic Good Humor CD. Since I’m loving these guys a lot at the moment, I’m going to give you a couple vids to reflect on. First, “Lips Are Unhappy.”
Finally, this one goes out to all those folks in the Carolinas dreaming of Myrtle Beach. Ask your DJ to insert “Add Your Light To Mine, Baby” into the shagging rotation, if you would.
I like them all. But … what matters to you?