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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
by Garon Cockrell
Leftover Cuties: “The Spark & The Fire” (2013) CD Review
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This continues to be a surprisingly good year for music

with the release of Leftover Cuties’ second album, The Spark & The Fire, an impressive collection of songs

combining jazz, pop and swing, with excellent lead vocals. This band is in the

same general realm as the Squirrel Nut Zippers, in as much as they take some

older styles and apply them to modern pop. And they do it so well. This band

also writes great material. All of the songs on The Spark & The Fire are originals. In “Once Again,” lead

vocalist Shirli McAllen sings, “Again I

arrive overjoyed/And I leave completely destroyed.
” I like the way she

plays with the word “destroyed.” When

she sings later in that same song, “Still

I wonder what we could have been
,” the horn soars, as if in answer.








The songs are really well-constructed, and have an

original feel in spite of being influenced by older styles (including some

elements of early 1960s rock, like the drumbeat to “What’s The Matter?”). This

album put me in such a good mood. Seriously, if you’re feeling a bit low, put

this on, and within a couple of minutes you’ll be dancing (or at least smiling)

your woes away. Part of that is due to the New Orleans influence heard in

several of the tracks. I’m looking forward to seeing this band in concert.








The album opens with “Thick And Thin,” which is a bright burst

of fun, with a bit of an old-time swing that is delightful, and even a bit of

an early rock and roll groove. And it’s a love song with a happy, positive

vibe, a song above not giving up, with lines like, “I’m going to fight for you until we get it right.” This song also

provides the album’s title in the lines, “Now

it breaks my spirit, it makes me so sad/To think of the spark and the fire we

once had
.”








“One Heart” starts with a great groove on percussion,

with Shirli’s vocals soon coming in over the cool rhythm. And when the song

truly kicks in, her vocals become even more impressive. Seriously, this is a

great vocal performance. Shirli has a lot of power, a lot of control. And the

lyrics are pretty damn good. “The words

you never said, they haunt me/The ones you did were as sharp as a knife
.” And

this song asks, “How many times can one

heart break?








Shirli gives another excellent vocal performance in

“Clarity,” a cool, late-night song that is simply gorgeous, and quite moving. Here

is a taste of the lyrics: “Oh babe, I wish you knew how beautiful you are/I wish

you’d see yourself only through my eyes/Then you’ll know in time this too shall

pass
.” There is a quiet moment with just vocals and ukulele, on a later

repetition of the line “Oh babe, I wish you knew how beautiful you are.”

This song itself is so beautiful, and is one of the album’s best tracks.








“If Only It Could Be” is a great jazzy gem that is

tremendous fun, with a great 1940s vibe. It has a great groove on bass and

drums, and a totally fucking delicious instrumental section. There is also a

playful ending that makes me love the song even more. This is another of the CD’s

best tracks, and one of the year’s coolest tunes.








“Blind Man” provides more great vibes and grooves from

the past, but also with a very original feel, and another wonderful vocal

performance. I love the way this song builds and progresses, and I’m

particularly fond of the work on keys. “You’re

a blind man/Though you can clearly see/You’re a sad man/Without any reason to

be
.”








“Shame” begins with a seriously cool groove on bass by

Austin Nicholsen. There is something very sexy about this song, in the bass,

and especially the vocals. The first lines are, “And to think I almost didn’t meet you/I almost didn’t know you exist.”

I imagine her in a long, slinky red dress singing in a small club after hours,

holding each patron spellbound. The song has that kind of feel. Yes, it’s another

of my favorites.








“Everyone” is an old-time New Orleans-style drinking

song. And is there anything better in this world? It’s totally delightful.

Shirli sings, “Everyone is a little

crazier this time of year
,” and lunacy has never sounded so appealing. This

track features backing vocals by Kate Nicholsen, Tamara Watford, Clayton Joseph

Scott and Kelly Johnson, and has something of a party atmosphere, particularly

at the end.








The Spark & The

Fire
ends with “I’ve Been Waiting,” a pretty and sweet tune. This is one

that really highlights Shirli’s vocal performance. When it kicks in, it has an

early 1960s feel.








CD Track List






  1. Thick And Thin


  2. One Heart


  3. Once Again


  4. Clarity


  5. If Only It Could Be


  6. All That Love


  7. What’s The Matter?


  8. Blind Man


  9. Rise And Shine


  10. Shame


  11. Everyone


  12. I’ve Been Waiting











Musicians








Leftover Cuties are Austin Nicholsen on upright bass,

ukulele and backing vocals; Mike Bolger on brass, keys, accordion and backing

vocals; Shirli McAllen on vocals and ukulele; and Stuart Johnson on drums,

percussion and backing vocals.








Joining them on this release are Alex Budman on

woodwinds, Ben Peeler on steel guitar, Jake Sinclair on guitar, and Kate

Nicholsen on harmony vocals. Tamara Watford, Clayton Joseph Scott and Kelly

Johnson provide backing vocals on “Everyone.”








Leftover Cuties are based in Los Angeles (and for that, I

am grateful, as it should give me plenty of opportunities to see them perform).








The Spark & The Fire was released on July 23, 2013.








(Note: I also posted this

review on Michael Doherty's Music Log.)










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