In 1959, novelist Peter De Vries dashed off a sentence destined for cultural glory: "Nostalgia ain't what it used to be." It's often used as a put-down for all things resurrected, but the phrase also implies that once nostalgia was what it used to be. I mused upon that phrase when two new releases made their way to me, one of which does a fine job of reanimating an old genre and the second of which may have its charms, but they were certainly lost on me.
First the good news: The New Orleans-based band The Revivalists makes no bones about dusting off old styles. Their latest self-titled EP evokes the mid-1960s when bands were grooving in the little seam that connected rhythm and blues to "soul" music. These groups were usually stripped down versions of R & B outfits for the simple reason that it was hard to travel with a big band. Some critics complained that the instrumentation was 'thin.' The Revivalists are a seven-piece lineup–large by today's standards–but they do sound thin if you compare them to ensembles such as those that backed Big Joe Turner. That's not the standard at which the Revivalists aim–try Van Morrison, whose tones lead vocalist David Shaw eerily invokes. This is R&B/soul at its sexy and mellow best–the kind that works up a sweat by degree, not a single burst. Shaw is a revelation–a voice filled with grit, spit, and power. Check out tunes such as "Mary Joanna the Music" and "Soulfight" and you'll definitely hear the Van Morrison influences. You'll also hear another very good thing about this band–keyboardist Michael Girardot, he of both the rolling thunder organ and the cool-to-the-touch piano. Loved this band.
Alas, I have less affection for the Seattle-based The Bad Things (not to be confused with Shaun White's band of that name) whose After the Inferno (Silent City Records) is the sort I might have loved back in 1979 or so, but which now feels like a bird that has flown. Aren't we all a bit tired of hearing about Seattle's grimy side? Especially when the antidote seems to be clash, thrash, and embrace the decadence? The Bad Things are a nostalgia mash up: the DIY ethos of punk at its height, an Irish bar band, and seedy cabaret. I admired the politics and snippets of the writing, but I couldn't get past the fact that lead vocalist Jimmy Berg lights no fires and that the instrumentation is more laconic than iconic. The DIY vibe of punk made sense during the stagflation of the 70s and heartlessness of the Reagan-Thatcher years, but it simply sounds sloppy now. That's among the reasons that punk mutated into grunge–a style that dressed up punk's anger with better sound and musicians. Were I in my 20s and hanging out in a down-market Seattle club, this band's sideshowspectacles might intrigue, but the bird of youth has also flown. Rob Weir