(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Recording review - The Sights, Left Over Right (2012)

A perfect storm of retro rock and soul

I first heard about Detroit retro-rockers The Sights because they're touring with Tenacious D this summer. The blurb included a link to Fool (I Can't Stop Making Out With You) from their new album Left Over Right. A flirt of feedback and drum stick click count started the song and I was transfixed within seconds. A haze of harmonica and sax settled in on top of the deliberate drive of the guitar and bass riff, but then the discord clarified to reveal Eddie Baranek's vocals. His verses conjured Eric Burdon and the Animals. Then the soulful chorus broke the tension with a tidal wave of sound: horns, harp, and tight rhythmic stabs.

As much as I love the convenience of my iPod, Fool made me long for my turntable again. The volume knob crept higher with each replay. After swallowing this hook, I had to hear more.

Fool's intro is more modern, but the bulk of the track screams 1965, in large part because of Jim Diamond's old school production. The softened woomph of the kick drum, the roomy vocal reverb, the subtle build on the keyboard - these sonic decisions nurture both those stripped down verses and the headier choruses.

The rest of Left Over Right provides similar moments of satisfaction. The sound creeps forward to visit late '60s/early '70s classic rock, decorative bits of psychedelia, and even folk rock. There are so many whispered influences (The Animals, Badfinger, Bowie, The Band) that it's not so much a tribute as a long comfortable soak in a bygone era.

Diamond's engineering on Left Over Right is such a strong contributor that it almost deserves band-member status. Like a sculptor, he tweaks the texture to generate subtle effects and elicit the perfect mood. On Mercy's intro, he slathers on a thick mono layer of retro, like a teenager's cheap phonograph. This opens into a fuller, soul-tinged rocker that pushes the clock forward by about seven years:
The three sides to every truth
Are yours, mine, and the absolute
Which one are you gonna choose?
Whichever one suits your needs
The musical question is appropriate. Are The Sights retro-purists, gold diggers, or just naturally groovy? As Left Over Right time travels back and forth, the band blends in like chameleons. Still, every track sounds natural as the production, arrangement, and the writing create the appropriate mix.

The band itself seems to address the credibility question. On Anything to Anyone, The Sights offer a more modern sound, like Portugal. The Man's psych-pop. Baranek tosses down the gauntlet:
I look at myself and wonder, what would I become?
Anything to anyone?
I could sing without pretense
Or dance in your decadence
Would you think it's all an act?
With candor, he pushes the question back to the listener. He knows who he is and challenges his audience on their own consistency.

Without a yardstick for this longtime band, I can't judge their classic cred. But Left Over Right is a damn good reference point and a great album.

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