Most of us get a bit nostalgic in late December. I can't think of many better ways to ring out the old year than with the new-spin-on-old-styles magic of Phoenix-based Whiskey Kiss. Their latest CD is titled Retro Revamped and it's true to its title. Think a mix of rockabilly, skiffle, vintage pop/rock, Chicago blues, and surf guitar. Vocalist Niki White anchors the band. Whether intentionally or not, her vocals are a go-to-hell rejoinder to air-swallowing little-girl-voiced singers everywhere. To say that Ms. White has a big voice is understatement akin to suggesting that the Grand Canyon seems rather large. Retro Revamped is a record that sweats, grunts, and bristles with tension–much of it sexual in nature. I like to think of it as Patsy Cline on an extended Bad Girl Road Trip. If you think I exaggerate, check out the bump-and-grind tempo of songs like "Vixen." (The title alone tells ya' something!) And when she sings, "I Got a New Man," her excitement has nothing to do with the dude's conversational prowess.
This isn't to suggest that Ms. White is a libertine; she's actually married to lead guitarist Nick White. (Yeah, Nick and Niki!) He's quite a treat in is right. He wails away on "I Wanna Know" as if acid rock was invented a decade earlier than it was, channels Carl Perkins on "Can't Catch Me," updates skiffle on "Something on a Record," and wields a spooky surf guitar on "Why Ya' Do" and "Cat Scratch." The latter two songs are also emblematic of the musical synergy between Nick and Niki. In the first song, the guitar sets the mood for vocals colored with growls and squeals; the second is a let-'er-rip number in which guitar notes ring, fingers snap in time to Michael Robinson's high hat percussion, Tommy Collins' bass comes out thick and low, and Bruce Legge's horns blare. But listen to White's vocals and you'll know instantly that she's more wildcat than hepcat.
As noted, the arrangements throughout are simultaneously retro and fresh. "I Wanna Know" is evocative of early Motown–right down to soulful background vocals from Taryn Lewis and Katie Moore–yet somehow it's different. Ditto "All You Need," which is strongly reminiscent of "Johnny B. Goode," yet sounds more countrified. I also enjoyed the high drama of "Cold Cold Man," a done-me-wrong song with ringing chords, quick sprays of notes, defiant bass, and mournful vocals that bathe the song in a deeper sorrow. Add Niki White to the list of vocalists you need to hear before the snows melt. Let's put it this way–she and Whiskey Kiss have shared a stage with Wanda Jackson. They're just that damn good!
PS: There's another band called Whiskey Kiss that has a high profile on the Web. This review references the Phoenix-based rockabilly quintet, not the four-piece Hattiesburg, Mississippi rock n' roll cover band.
The cover band has loads of videos on YouTube, but this band hasn't yet posted any. You can catch an inkling of what they're like by clicking on the video section of their Website.