Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi The Nightcaps "Split"; Mary Lou Lord "Got No Shadow"

By Michael Henningsen

MARCH 23, 1998: 

Alibi Rating Scale
!!!!!= Afternoon delight
!!!!= Afternoon lust
!!!= Afternoon daydream
!!= Afternoon drunk
!= Afternoon nap

Nightcaps Split (Rendezvous Records)

It seems these days that every lounge/cocktail/swing band on the planet is tripping all over themselves to announce that they are "not retro" (implying that they aren't a bunch of tired Sinatra/Esquivel/Cab Calloway rip-off artists), that they "got their start as a punk band" (implying that they've got real musical creds) or that they "are serious as a heart attack about this shit" (implying that they're not a campy kitsch band). In their press kit, The Nightcaps manage to mention all three. They needn't have bothered. With their new album Split as evidence, it's quite clear that this Seattle sextet are an up-and-coming act on the nightclub circuit. Though they (or their publicists) claim to blend jazz, pop, swing and rock, one listen and their skill as a tight jazz combo is clear. Echoes of Debbie Harry's pet project Jazz Passengers drift into mind: polished musicianship, smooth vocals, concise songwriting. The engineering on Split sounds like it's trying to capture the buzzy low-fi bounce of The Nightcaps' live show (a damnably difficult thing to capture with any band). Frankly, I would have preferred some more polished studio hiss instead--but this is a division of Sub Pop we're talking about. Still, the guitar/drums/double-bass/percussion/sax boys pack plenty of pep, and singer Theresa Hannam demonstrates a solid command of her more-sassy-than-sultry vocal talents. From the languid irony of "Thrillsville" to the jumpy swagger of "Get Up and Leave," Split is a serious, nonretro, post-punk jazz job. (DO'L) !!! 1/2

Mary Lou Lord Got No Shadow (Sony/Work)

For a number of years and on a few scratchy singles, Mary Lou Lord was the cheerleader for other songwriters, chiefly Lou Barlow, Nick Saloman of the British psych-pop band, Bevis Frond, and Elliott Smith. The 33-year-old singer/songwriter has coyly dodged having to write her own songs, implying that she has the ability to do it simply because she knows how to perform. Lord's the kind of girl who, when she falls in love with a song, will sing it on street corners, in subways, in coffeehouses and, sometimes, on records. There is something very Pat Boone about playing other people's songs, and in the DIY world where Lord operates, the suspicion is appropriately placed. Lord's devotion, however, to singing praise to indie rock's finest songs that arguably few will ever know, coupled with her ability to show the more emotional side of even hard songs, got her where she is today. It may well be that her devotion to favorite songwriters may have gotten in the way of her own career.

Lord's first full-length, after nearly half a decade of innuendo, myth and promise, is ignited by her voice and her skill at delivering a song, a rare gift indeed. And, rather than a solo acoustic record, Lord's new release comes with a whole cast of rock characters--drummers, guitarists, bassists--like hangers-on. Four of the songs on Got No Shadow are Lord's originals, and they are fresh pop gems. The rest of the 13 tracks are copped or co-written. The originals are not the show stoppers that Lord's Freedy Johnston cover or her rendition of Elizabeth Cotten's "Shake Sugaree" are. The band that plays here is passable, and they play well-crafted songs. "Jingle Jangle Morning" is Lord's messy-haired response to Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tamborine Man," and her best track on the record, "Western Union Desperate," marries a soggy longing with a clever melody and memorable turn of the phrase. With apple cheeks, a shock of blonde hair with sharp bangs and a memorable voice, she is embued with star power that makes nearly everyone look, even when her mouth is closed. There are good songs in this girl, some included on here. She just needs the guts to stand up to the great ones she already knows. !!! (BD)

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