Monophonics bring soul and a new (old) album to Tahoe

Monophonics

The Monophonics, who used Rembrandt lighting for this portrait, released a masterpiece EP, “Mirrors.” The soul band plays Crystal Bay on Sunday.

Musicians might know when they’ve recorded a great song, but it’s impossible to predict if it will become a hit. Today, the Monophonics released an album of outstanding old soul songs, a couple of them iconic radio staples, the others mostly obscure and known only to the LP record holders, musicologists and esoteric R&B fans.

“Mirrors” is a six-song treasure, an intricately detailed homage to quintessential soul songs, played on vintage instruments and recorded on classic equipment. The tunes sound like they could be movie soundtracks, understandable because that’s what this band makes when it’s not onstage.

Not only are the songs a potent listen, it’s fun to explore from where they came.

On the chorus of the song “Lying,” co-producer Kelly Finnigan sings with a solid and deep also delivery, “Ain’t nothing but the low-down truth. Lying it don’t mean a thing to me.” Piano gives the tune a soulful structure and an echoed electric guitar envelopes a psychedelic ambiance.

Monophonics "Nirrors"“Lying” was first recorded by the 1960s Detroit rock and soul band Merder, an underrated group almost signed with Motown before catching on with Chess at the end of that label’s blues heyday.

The Monophonics, based in San Francisco, have been recording old songs on vintage gear since at least 2012, when its cover of Sonny and Cher’s “Bang Bang” became a hit in Greece. That sparked a fanbase across Europe, where the band tours each summer.

Many parts of Greece are similar to landscapes in California, Finnigan says.

The most familiar track on “Mirrors” is “California Dreaming,” and the Monophonics recorded it in the style of Lee Moses’ cover of the Mamas and the Papas’ original version.

Finnigan and guitarist Ian McDonald produce the band’s records in a Marin County studio “with tape machines and consoles and all the bells and whistles you need,” said Finnigan, who introduced the concept after joining the Monophonics in 2010. The band members were open to the idea and were happy with the early results.

“I think they trusted us and they’ve continued to trust us,” Finnigan said. “It’s a really a great thing to be with people who allow us to act as not only members and musicians in the band but also as producers and engineers.”

Finnigan joined the Monophonics full-time after filling in as keyboardist for a show in the Crystal Bay Casino, where the band will perform Sunday.

“It was a free Crown Room show,” Finnigan said. “Brent (Harding of Devil Dog Productions) does that once in a while, just trying to get people out to discover new music and a new band.”

On Sunday, the Monophonics will share the stage with The Motet, which also will perform on Saturday.

“They fit little a bit more on the disco funk side of things, which we dig. We fit  a little bit more on the soul and psychedelic rock side,” Finnigan said. “So it’s like a good pairing. Both bands bring that energy and that’s what’s most important.”

Finnigan said the Monophonics will play songs from the new EP, some of them of which the band has been doing live for a while, including “I’d Be Nowhere Today” by The Nu People.

A new album with originals is in the works with a tentative release of early fall. In the meantime, the band is about to play a string of shows in Montana and Colorado, followed by the annual European trek.

But first, there’s Crystal Bay.

“It’s a great room,” Finnigan said. “As a as a patron going to see show, it’s a lot of fun because I’ve been on that side of things, too. But also it’s a fun room to play as a musician. You can see everybody in the crowd and you feel the connection of the energy of the audience. And it’s a great sounding room. Blake (Beeman) made it sound really good before he unfortunately passed, but they carried on the tradition of being a high-quality professional live venue.”

-Tim Parsons

  • Monophonics
    Headliner: The Motet
    When: 9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18
    Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
    Tickets: $25 in advance or $30 on the day of the show
    Red Room after-party: Tracorum
  • Monophonics: Montana to Colorado
    Fed. 21: The Top Hat Lounge – Missoula, Montana
    Feb. 22: Rialto Bozeman – Bozeman
    Feb. 24: Animas City Theatre – Durango, Colorado
    March 2: Schmiggity’s Live Music Dance Bar – Steamboat Springs
    March 3: Cervantes’ Other Side – Denver
    March 8: Fox Theatre – Boulder
    March 9: Paradise Theatre – Paonia
    March 10: Sheridan Opera House – Telluride
  • ‘Mirrors’ EP
    Released: Feb. 15, 2018
    Summer Breeze (The Main Ingredient’s doing Seals & Croft)
    My Heart Cries (The Invincibles)
    Beggin’ (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons)*
    Lying (Black Merder)
    I’d Be Nowhere Today (The Nu People)
    California Dreaming (Lee Moses doing Mamas and the Papas)
    *To be released as 7-inch single with instrumental “B” side.
    Guest vocalists: Nicole Smith, Jeanine Jones, Veronica Johnson
  • Monophonics: Austin Bohlman (drums), Ian McDonald (guitar/background vocals), Ryan Scott (trumpet/background vocals/percussion) & Kelly Finnigan (keys/lead vocals) along with Max Ramey (bass).

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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