Though only a part-time congregation, this Chicago quintet has brilliantly combined the cool swing of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, the complex arrangements of Curt Boettcher and the lush harmonies of the Anita Kerr Singers. Comprised of NRBQâ€™s Scott Ligon and Casey McDonough, the Decemberistsâ€™ touring vocalists Kelly Hogan and Nora Oâ€™Connor, and session ace Alex Hall, the Flat Five debut a mesmerizing blend of pop, jazz, R&B and folk that is laden with joie de vivre. The opening â€œFloridaâ€ is effervescent with harmonies and a chiming guitar hook, and the R&B â€œBuglightâ€ sounds like a jivey mashup of the Andrews Sisters, Roches, Mills Brothers, Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks and Coasters.
The albumâ€™s â€˜60s vibe recalls Boettcherâ€™s work with the Association, Millennium and Sagittarius, along with the sunshine pop of the Free Design and Spanky and Our Gang. Thereâ€™s a touch of Bacharach in the trumpet solo of â€œBirmingham,â€ a McCartney-like bass line on â€œI Could Fall in Love With You,â€ and the Latin-styled â€œThis is Your Nightâ€ recalls Sergio Mendes and Brasil â€˜66. Though to be fair to the latterâ€™s playfulness, itâ€™s unlikely that Brasil â€˜66 vocalist Lani Hall ever sang anything like â€œdonâ€™t just sit around and mope / buy yourself a great big bag of dope / itâ€™s a world of love and hope.â€ Those lyrics, along with those of the entire album, come from Chris Ligon, older brother of group member Scott, and a writer of uncommonly fine senses of melody and humor.
The groupâ€™s instrumental sound is the perfect complement to their harmonies, fluidly stretching from the banjo-lined folk of â€œBottom Buckâ€ to the languid guitar and accordion of â€œSheâ€™s Only Fiveâ€ and Emmit Rhodes-inspired â€œI Could Fall in Love With You.â€ The waltz-time jazz â€œYouâ€™re Still Joeâ€ has a tasty electric piano solo to complement the swinging rhythm section and a remarkable bell-like vocal round that plays the song out. The closing â€œItâ€™s Been a Delightâ€ is nominally a farewell from lovers whoâ€™ve loved the night away, but itâ€™s also a clever thank you to the recordâ€™s listeners, and a fittingly sweet end to thirty-five minutes of vocal delight. This is the biggest, most unexpected and best musical surprise of the year. [Â©2016 Hyperbolium]