Music Reviews
4:04 pm
Wed February 12, 2014

Lake Street Dive: 'Portraits' Of Heartache

Originally published on Wed March 19, 2014 10:21 am

Lake Street Dive is powered by the voice of Rachael Price; it's what hits you first when you listen to this quartet. It's a ringingly clear, strong voice, a sound that's at once beseeching and in control. Price regularly harmonizes with the other members of Lake Street Dive — bassist Bridget Kearney, drummer Mike Calabrese and Mike Olson, who also plays guitar and trumpet. But most of the songs on Bad Self Portraits are showcases for Price's surging vocals.

When Lake Street Dive performed "You Go Down Smooth" amidst all the big stars T-Bone Burnett had gathered for his Inside Llewyn Davis tribute concert, it provoked cheers. The song, like much of Lake Street Dive's material, looks to the past — in this case, a driving pop-soul '60s sound. One thing that raised Lake Street Dive's profile was a YouTube video of the group performing the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" on a Boston street. It's racked up more than a million views, popular for the way it not only displays the group's talent, but also frames it as something both spontaneous and studied, a throwback to doo-wop groups crooning on street corners. This is the kind of thing that plays to the least interesting thing about Lake Street Dive: the privileging of technique over originality, the domestication of music that was once more unruly. You can sometimes hear this on Lake Street Dive's original material, in a song such as "Rabid Animal," which is catchy but hardly embodies the fervid intensity implied by rabidness.

Price also has a career as a jazz vocalist, performing with musicians such as Joshua Redman and T.S. Monk. And she's released solo albums that include interpretations of standards like "Skylark" and "Serenade in Blue." There's a mood to this music that Lake Street Dive occasionally captures in a song such as Bridget Kearney's composition "Better Than."

When you look at YouTube videos of Lake Street Dive performing covers such as The Mamas and the Papas' version of "Dedicated to the One I Love," what you get is not a fresh interpretation of a song initially made famous by the 5 Royales and the Shirelles, but rather a very nice Mamas and the Papas impersonation. But enough times on this album to make it worth your while, Lake Street Dive powers past nicety to connect with the passion that brings blood and sweat to the tears that heartache songs need in order to thrive.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the album "Bad Self Portraits" by Lake Street Dive, a quartet that began performing together almost a decade ago while they were all attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. The group recently attracted attention when they were invited by T Bone Burnett to perform at a New York Town Hall concert featuring music from and inspired by the Coen brothers' movie "Inside Llewyn Davis."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD SELF PORTRAITS")

RACHAEL PRICE: (Singing) I bought this camera to take pictures of my love. Now that he's gone I don't have anybody to take pictures of. A lonesome highway is a pretty good subject. I'm going to make myself make use of this thing. I'm taking landscapes. I'm taking still-lifes. I'm taking bad self portraits of a lonely woman.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Lake Street Dive is powered by the voice of Rachael Price. It's what hits you first when you listen to this quartet. It's a ringingly clear, strong voice, a sound that's at once beseeching and in control. Price regularly harmonizes with the other members of the group, bassist Bridget Kearney, drummer Mike Calabrese, and Mike Olson who also plays guitar and trumpet. But mostly the songs on "Bad Self Portraits" are showcases for Price's surging vocals.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU GO DOWN SMOOTH")

PRICE: (Singing) Would it be true to say that I ordered you? Or is it you that ordered me? I could say you are the only one I see but I can't stop at two or three. And I am, I'm afraid to need you so. I am, I'm too sober not to know that you may be my problem, not my love.

TUCKER: That's "You Go Down Smooth," a song that provoked cheers when Lake Street Dive performed it amidst all the big stars T Bone Burnett had gathered for his "Inside Llewyn Davis" tribute concert. The song, like much of Lake Street Dive's material, looks to the past - in this case, a driving pop-soul '60s sound. One thing that raised Lake Street Dive's profile was a YouTube video of the group performing The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" on a Boston street.

It's racked up more than a million views, popular for the way it not only displays the group's talent but frames it as something both spontaneous and studied - a throwback to doo-wop groups crooning on street corners. This is the kind of thing that plays to the least interesting thing about Lake Street Dive: the privileging of technique over originality, the domestication of music that once was more unruly.

You can sometimes hear this on Lake Street's original material on a song such as "Rabid Animal" which is catchy but hardly embodies the fervid intensity implied by rabidness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RABID ANIMAL")

PRICE: (Singing) Another night wasted in my bedroom space, yeah. I could almost taste it. Why did I ever go back home? All night you got me running like a rabid animal. No bite. How will I ever find you in the darkness with no light?

TUCKER: Price also has a career as a jazz vocalist, performing with musicians such as Joshua Redman and T.S. Monk. And she's released solo albums that include interpretations of standards like "Skylark" and "Serenade in Blue." There's a mood to this music that Lake Street Dive occasionally captures on a song such as Bridget Kearney's composition "Better Than."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTER THAN")

PRICE: (Singing) I could spend ages reading the news. I could spend days singing the blues. But I turn up the TV light, give up without a fight. Better than pretending to know what's wrong or what's right. I could spend ages...

TUCKER: When you look at YouTube videos of Lake Street performing covers such as the Mamas and the Papas version of "Dedicated to the One I Love," what you get is not a fresh interpretation of a song initially made famous by the Five Royales and the Shirelles but rather a very nice Mamas and the Papas impersonation. But enough times on this album to make it worth your while, Lake Street Dive powers past nicety to connect with a passion that brings blood and sweat to the tears that heartache songs need in order to thrive.

GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed Lake Street Dive's new album "Bad Self Portraits." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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