By Cait Brennan
The Internet is a magical place. A few nights back, I muted Bob “Olympus Interruptus” Costas and took a random gander at the live web feed of one of my favorite watering holes—Tempe, Arizona’s historic Tempe Tavern. A suitably vibrant crowd was on hand to revel in the music of some fine local bands. It was all good stuff, but one band stood out so much that I had to track them down. The band is called Bad Lucy, and their gorgeous, melodic songs and energetic live show blasted right through the off-kilter webcam and livestream hiccups—and into my heart. Shut up, I’m serious.
I immediately downloaded their record, and it was worth every one of my 495 pennies. Fans of The Shins, Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith, The Format, and fun. will find a lot to love about Bad Lucy’s self-titled five-song EP.
I’ve never met these guys, but according to their website, the project grew out of the solo work of the enigmatically-named J. Miller (guitar and lead vocals). Miller and bassist Alex Kyhn joined forces at a release party for Miller’s solo The Eventually EP; ace drummer Alex Lee eventually rounded out the new group. Originally just ‘J. Miller and band,’ the group took on a new moniker when an abandoned puppy turned up at one of their shows. According to their bio: “With only a muddy rope around her neck and no one to claim her, Miller took her home. She was dubbed Lucy, and as she terrorized the rehearsal space, she quickly became the band’s new muse.”
The lead-off track, “Forward” is as good as any guitar-pop song you’re going to hear this year. “I need you to move closer/close your eyes, count backwards from ten,” Miller sings, all urgency and sweet reverb. It’s a tough invitation to resist, and I didn’t. Hearing this live ear candy on the Tavern’s web feed is what convinced me these guys were for serious.
“Knife” picks up where “Forward” left off, with Miller’s strong vocals and lyrics and winning guitar work from Miller and guest Sam Lopez. “You tie up your time with your mind/I come along and cut free with my knife,” sings Miller, riding the harmonies skyward, free as a bird.
Freedom is a strong theme on Bad Lucy. Few bands would have the stones to even write a song called “Hallelujah” after the ubiquitous Leonard Cohen song became a worn down arrow in every singer-songwriter’s quiver (indeed my first fleeting impulse upon hearing this sparkling new original was “hallelujah it’s not a Leonard Cohen cover”) This one soars. In his heartfelt lyrics and yearning vocals, Mr. Miller seems to know what Mr. Cohen’s cold and broken protagonist may have forgotten: “Love swallows you whole but doesn’t break you apart/No diamond cuts hard as the truth in your heart/and tomorrow’s the day you will start the revolution, singing o hallelujah I’m free.”
We’ll stipulate that the Cohen song is an all-time classic, but it’s apples and oranges: This is the finest other song also named “Hallelujah” that you’re ever going to find, and with its rootsy heartland-gospel feel and irresistible harmonies, you’ll be singing along after one listen.
“Weather” finds Kyhn and Lee’s jazz influences and pro timing coming to the fore as Miller chalks up another winner in his uncanny streak of great singalong choruses. “The Only Thing” ends the set with a soulful blues worthy of fellow Arizona soul stalwarts Black Carl. It’s also a showcase for how tight Bad Lucy is as a unit, with Lee’s precision percussion and Kyhn’s fine basswork meshing perfectly with Miller’s urgent, aching vocal and spare, lonesome guitars.
The record sounds as contemporary as it gets, but the warm, organic production (produced by the reliably great Bob Hoag at Flying Blanket Recording, with generous portions of vintage tube mojo, Hammond organ, and upright bass) is an analog lover’s dream. Hoag also does a masterful job on Miller’s vocals, capturing a level of feeling and nuance unusual on even the best pop records.
With great hooks, evocative lyrics, and gorgeous harmonies, Bad Lucy’s five-song EP is one of my favorite discoveries this year. I can’t wait to hear what they do next. And I owe it all to Bob Costas.