Lake Street Dive
Free Yourself Up
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The first impression most get when hearing Lake Street Dive is that the quintet (touring keyboardist Akie Bermiss has been added as a member) is little more than a backup for singer Rachael Price. After all, these songs revolve around her husky, soulful vocals, and while the music is tight and well arranged, little about it jumps out as unique.
But perusing the liner notes tells another story because Price is only credited with co-writing one song. Bassist Bridget Kearney is responsible for the bulk of the material (she contributes to seven of the 10 tracks), with drummer Michael Calabrese and guitarist/trumpeter Mike Olson picking up the rest. It’s no surprise that Kearney is the only member to record a solo album (2017’s under-the-radar gem Won’t Let You Down), where she also displayed her multi-instrumental talents. She’s Lake Street Dive’s secret weapon.
Musically, if there were any doubts after 2016’s Dave Cobb produced Nonesuch debut Side Pony that LSD was a pure pop band, Free Yourself Up will erase them. Most traces of the ’60s girl group, Motown and jazz strains that regularly appeared before are gone (guitarist/trumpet player Olson only pulls out his horn a few times) as well as the unpredictability of their songwriting. Aside from the blues rocking, appropriately titled “Dude,” which transforms into an almost avant-garde jam, LSD plays it safe on the bulk of these 10 selections. Whether that’s the result of being on a major imprint or a focusing of direction, the yacht-rocky, ’70s pop approach is prominent.
Writing and arranging remains the group’s forte. The first single “I Can Change” is a bittersweet acoustic ballad about trying to salvage a relationship by doing the titular alteration, sung with just the right touch of remorse by Price. On “You Are Free,” Lake Street Dive captures a slick, melodic rocking with a tricky riff and a chorus you’ll remember after one spin. The jaunty “Shame, Shame, Shame” is pure blue-eyed soul as is the opening bluesy “Don’t Leave Me Alone with My Thoughts,” a tune that wouldn’t be out of place on a later Doobie Brothers disc. Their previously released cover of Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl” is one of the band’s most requested items since it nails the sweet spot they aim for on this frothy set.
Lake Street Dive is too talented to simply mimic or replicate its influences and after a few listens these tunes will have you singing along like you’ve known them for years. While the playing remains somewhat generic and you can’t imagine the group without Price fronting it, Free Yourself Up refines and defines Lake Street Dive’s accessible, retro-leaning, radio-friendly pop aesthetic.