July 6, 2012
When musicians get together and start talking about breaking boundaries, the results tend to be pretty daunting for the average listener. But the “no rules” approach of Lake Street Dive is something altogether different.
The quartet is unconventional, but accessible. The band has a knack for pop smarts, but also composes and plays with a degree of sophistication that makes all the difference between confection and substance.
Singer Rachael Price, bassist Bridget Kearney, drummer Mike Calabrese and guitarist/trumpet player Mike “McDuck” Olson formed the band nearly a decade ago, meeting as freshmen at New England Conservatory.
“Mike Olson is the one who brought us all together. I don’t know what his master plan was or what he saw in the combination of us,” Kearney says when reached recently during a break in rehearsals.
Lake Street Dive recently released the EP “Fun Machine,” unfurling its renditions of Hall and Oates’ “Rich Girl,” George Michael’s “Faith,” Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” The Drifters hit “This Magic Moment,” Paul McCartney’s “Let Me Roll It” plus the original song “Clear a Space.”
The band will be celebrating the record’s release with a pair of shows Sunday at Passim in Cambridge.
The classic tunes nicely fit into the band’s live show. When Lake Street Dive made its Worcester debut last month, the covers offered up some common ground where listeners could see the contours of familiar songs redrawn in ways no less appealing than the original works. Lake Street Dive didn’t recreate straight pop or soul, instead blurring those distinctions, which is a trademark of the band’s own compositions.
Price’s sultry vocals and Olson’s melancholic trumpet lines created the mood we associate with “I Want You Back,” just not in the way we are used to hearing it. And the lean bass plucking and atmospheric drums transported the tear jerker to a lonely street corner, again reimagining the piece.
Kearney says tackling the songs that originally came packaged as big pop productions taught the band a lot about stripping down a tune to its essential elements.
“Playing a song like ‘Rich Girl’ in a minimalist way comes back to the original material. We now think about our songs as covers to see what the necessary parts are,” she explains.
Not that the band had much trouble with the original material crafted for its self-titled album released by Signature Sounds in late 2010. Jazzy snap, Latin flair, Motown groove, and even some loping honky tonk factor into the unique mix of contemporary adult pop.
Following their work at NEC, the members of Lake Street Dive made Boston home, before heading to Brooklyn where the musicians remain friends as well as band mates.
“We go through listening phases together,” Kearney says. “Right now we’re getting into early country rock and Buck Owens, and The Band. There’s definitely an Americana influence in what we’re doing.”
It seems OK to simply trust this band to follow its instincts.
Lake Street Dive is performing at 7 and 9:30 p.m. July 8 at Club Passim, 47 Palmer St., Cambridge. Tickets are available online or by calling (617) 492-7679.
Scott McLennan is a music correspondent for the Boston Globe and former entertainment columnist for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. His work as taken him from the Newport Folk Festival to the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival and many musical points in between. Scott also writes about skiing for Hawthorn Publications.
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