In pop music, context is everything. Five years ago, when guitarist Jack Randall and singer Mary Katherine Spencer decided they wanted to form a vintage jazz combo, the idea seemed like pure novelty. In 1997, musical tastes have caught up with--or slowed down for--Randall and Spencer, and their retro visions, as captured by their band Phonoroyale, now seem like the epitome of hip stylishness to the wingtipped, martini-and-olive crowd who's memorized every line of dialogue from Swingers.
The downside with the recent outbreak of cocktail-nation madness is that it's attracted a number of bands who think they can learn a couple of Mel Bay jazz chords, buy some brushes for their drummers, and sell a half-baked act to gullible Lindy Hoppers. Phonoroyale is in it for the right reasons, and, unlike many neo-hepcats, the band's got roots. The members love the haunting, moody vibes that jump off those early jazz 78s, and they want a piece of that audio magic for themselves.
On its debut album, Phonoroyale shows that, unlike most latter-day boppers, it can write new songs worthy of inclusion in a set of classic standards. Spencer's coy saloon-diva delivery screams Roaring Twenties, but the band generally jumps indiscriminately over the history of jazz, even including touches of late-'40s jump blues ("Judgment Day"). Though the musicians can tear into fast swing ravers as well as the next band ("Burlap Ballerina"), their real forte is the slow, understated ballad. "Mr. Goodstuff" offers hints of "Come Rain or Come Shine" in a smoky vocal showcase for Spencer, and "Honeybee Brag" allows the band to fall into a slow, loping Barney Kessell groove.
Best of all is "Could I?", the album closer. An after-hours shuffle with a yearning heart, it has the relaxed and unaffected feel of a track cut at the end of a session when the band didn't know the tape was still rolling. It also offers proof that this combo is aiming for more than campy nostalgia. It's excavating a timeless form to see if any fresh ideas can still be mined from it. Based on Radio Flavored, the answer appears to be yes.
Who's Your Daddy
From the comical opening sound bite which asks, "Who's your daddy?" the Mesa-based trio Yoko Love dodges a proverbial bullet with its debut release--an admirable task for any band--by creating a CD that churns with both musical maturity and a smooth, continuous vibe composed of energetic '70s-style funk. Who's Your Daddy shines for a first effort, and captures a sound that some bands search for even after three or four CDs.
Who's Your Daddy grooves the hardest with tracks like "Take It Away," "The Shit" and "I Hate My Girlfriend," when the band's funky, domineering musical prowess is truly set loose. Yet more mellow offerings such as "When I Was Young" and "Birdseye" confirm its reputation for producing smooth jams and infectious hooks with intriguing appeal.
Inevitably, the CD falls short in snaring the live and potent energy that has become the band's unofficial signature, yet it effectively delivers the meat of its erratic blend of funk, blues, jazz and rap-fusion. Josh Prior's vocals streamline each track, and introduce an element that's often absent in the band's live performances: lyrical clarity. Beyond Prior's sheer vocal tenacity, Yoko Love's unpredictable and playful lyrics are a perfect match with its innovative sound, and give each jam a more inviting identity.
Overall, the CD rolls along smoothly with its diverse collection of influences in a spirited, creative and uplifting fashion. Who's Your Daddy successfully captures the innocence and groove of '70s funk and reinforces it with a biting, harder-edge '90s attitude. As intended, the tracks are energizing and entertaining, while maintaining the essence of the band's core attitude, which is, basically, reckless fun.
--Allen Sloan Torpie
Distinctions between subgenres of rock are often flimsy and artificial, but they usually boil down to choice of heroes: the Sex Pistols or Black Sabbath, Black Flag or A Flock of Seagulls, and on and on. But when Nirvana shattered underground rock's commercial barriers in 1991, it also further blurred the lines between punk and metal, a lingering source of confusion which resulted in a band like Soundgarden winning Grammys in the Hard Rock category and looking sheepish about it.
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Jamie's Brother operates in a world where all such petty distinctions have evaporated, where loud guitars are loud guitars and categories mean nothing. On this 13-song, self-released collection, the Tempe quintet pulls out nearly every proven rock trick of the last three decades, from squealing wah-wah guitar solo to grinding jackhammer riffs, to dramatic distortion-pedal dynamics, to odd-interval harmonies that have Alice in Chains written all over them.
Singer Jeff Harmon has a powerful, gutsy voice, and his band's kitchen-sink approach works best on hard, propulsive rockers like "21" (even if you question its "Life begins at 21" chorus) and "Wasted." He bends his notes in a positively Kurt Cobainish fashion on the album's best song, the fiery "Lies." Unfortunately, some of the other tracks ("Nelly's," "Down") fall into a kind of generic-rock muddle, sounding like mere sums of their jumbled influences.
If much of the band's material sounds like a DNA splice of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden, the contemplative "Angie" seals the deal, delivering a virtual rewrite of "Hunger Strike" by Temple of the Dog (a Pearl Jam-Soundgarden side project). But if Jamie's Brother gets its best ideas from other bands, Down confirms that at least it executes those ideas expertly.