Album review: Lake Street Dive defies classification again

Tahoe Onstage

Lake Street Dive thrills the MontBleu Theatre audience during the March 17, 2017 concert.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

If there is a message in Lake Street Dive’s killer new album “Side Pony” amidst all the effervescent grooves it is “You Be You,” a sentiment Lake Street Dive embodies to the T.

When the group went viral on the strength of its smoky, jazzy cover of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” it turned a Motown classic into its own. When 2014’s “Bad Self Portraits” exploded onto the scene with its delectable blend of soul, rock, doo-wop, pop and hint of jazz, critics and fans alike praised its unique sound that simultaneously had hints of the past, present and future. Now with “Side Pony,” drummer Mike Calabrese and bandmates bassist Bridget Kearney, singer Rachael Price, and guitarist/trumpeter Michael “McDuck” Olson are sporting a new colorful sound that defies classification once again.

Side PonyMuch has been made about trying to place the Boston quartet into some kind of musical box, where the harmonies and pop stylings can paint it into a soul revival corner or the stand-up bass and trumpet hint at jazzier implications. Does it really matter? When the group charges out of the gate on the fuzzy fun of Kearney’s bass and Price’s cruising, full vocals on opener “Godawful Things,” you’re immediately swept into their infectious wake. When the wavy rhythm begins to billow with Price’s warm rising current, and you’re weightless for a couple seconds before falling back into the rhythm, it is game-set-match. You put on the album and you’re going to come-to 40 minutes later unsure of where the time went but knowing you passed the time lost in a glorious sweat of dancing and singing.

Let’s be honest, Price’s there-must-have-been-something-in-the-water pipes are stunningly bold, vivacious and rejoiceful and it is one of the funnest voices out there to belt along with, eyes closed and all. The sugary bounce of “Hell Yeah” is tailor made for her sweet coos to spread over like frosting. The way she yearns and pleads from heart on “Close to Me” would make Joe Cocker smile, and the song’s slow bluesy chug really allows her to keep building up the emotion to the climactic release.

“Call Off Your Dogs” is the orgasmic earworm that only Lake Street Dive can create and is the gold-standard of the album. The song quite literally floats on Kearney’s majestically warm bass line, which Price’s sultry melody surfs over with the greatest of ease and pleasure, like an angel riding an updraft through the clouds at sunset. Calabrese and McDuck break into the shimmering bridge trading cymbal rides with soulful rips on the guitar, light and tight, which the whole band brings home in one more sparkling run-through.

Elsewhere, Lake Street Dive looks to continue to add different kinds of flair and razzle dazzle to its sonic wardrobe whenever it can, further separating the band from the polarizing “Bad Self Portraits.” McDuck’s guitar has never been more tenacious and gritty than in the swirling “I Don’t Care About You.” For better or for worse, “Can’t Stop” is as close to a club banger the band will probably ever reach and “Side Pony” is as quirky and cute as the fashion trend itself.

The more you listen to Lake Street Dive, the more enamored you become with how its does what it does. And the more you think about how it does what it does, you realize you can’t really put your finger on it. The band just has that thing, that knack. It is an intangible chemistry of vision, musicianship and talent that continues to amaze. Just let Lake Street Drive be Lake Street Dive and blow you away.

Related story: Mike Calabrese discusses the making of “Side Pony.” LINK

  • Lake Street Dive
    “Side Pony”
    Release: Feb. 16, 2016
    Notable Tracks: “Call Off Your Dogs” “Close To Me” “Side Pony”

    Here are photos of Lake Street Dive’s concert on March 17, 2017, in the MontBleu Theatre

    Tahoe Onstage

    Rachael Price

    Tahoe Onstage

    Michael “McDuck” Olsen

    Tahoe Onstage

    Bridget Kearney

    Tahoe Onstage

    Mike Calabrese

    Lake Street Dive 6Lake Street Dive 4

  • Click to see all of Larry Sabo’s photos from the MontBleu concert.

About Garrett Bethmann

Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. He moved to Lake Tahoe in summer 2012.

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