Pop-soul band Lake Street Dive wants to spread a little joy around. What's wrong with that?

NEW YORK (AP) — Lake Street Dive chooses to spread some joy. You got a problem with that?

The veteran pop-soul band's upbeat approach permeates the new disc “Good Together,” with the title track's sprightly synthesizers pushing along members' Rachael Price and Akie Bermiss duet about of a couple in that stage of new relationship bliss.

On “Dance With a Stranger,” Price encourages audience members to make eye contact with someone they don't know and take a chance. “Open up your heart and dance with a stranger,” she sings, “until they're not a stranger anymore.”

Lake Street Dive explains the perspective as “joyful rebellion,” seemingly a convoluted way of explaining their nature.

“I do feel as performing artists you're asking people to connect with you,” Bermiss told The Associated Press recently. “That's part of the mission behind this record and the shows — to be connected to the audience. We wanted to call people to create joy.”

The band, whose core members met while studying jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, have methodically built an audience with their original music and a penchant for well-selected cover songs. A long North American tour this summer and fall includes their first-ever headlining gig at New York's Madison Square Garden.

They won't be gazing at their shoes and singing about their troubles.

“We really came into our own as a band playing small bars, where people didn't know our songs at all,” Price said. “We had to learn how to get people's attention. And the way we figured out to get people's attention is to play happy, joyful songs that had a catchy melody and a catchy phrase that you would sing along to before the song was over. This was an act of survival.”

They're not Pollyannas. Bad things happen to joyful people, too. But even Lake Street Dive's breakup songs have a certain sweetness to them. One of their best-known cuts, “Good Kisser,” is about a woman who tells her ex that when he's trashing her to his friends, don't ignore the good parts — like the talent referred to in the title.

The ballad “Twenty-Five,” the new disc's best song, takes a poignant look back at a breakup. “There was a time when I imagined we'd be forever,” Price sings, in the song that was penned by bass player Bridget Kearney.

But the young couple in the story couldn't bridge their differences. “I'll be an old woman with somebody else by my side,” Price sings. “But I will always be in love with you in my memories, when we were 25.”

Price talked over the idea with Kearney, reflecting on a perspective gained with time's erasure of sour feelings. Price, 38, and her musician-husband, Taylor Ashton, are new parents.

“The idea that something has to last a long time or else it's a failure doesn't make sense in times of growing up and relationships and friendships,” she said. “They can be beautiful, and they can be ephemeral.”

At a recent concert, she sang “Twenty-Five” as part of a one-two punch following Bermiss' cover of his own “Alone Again,” a song about loneliness delivered with such humor that he's not likely to have that problem himself if he keeps singing it.

Good cheer can be looked upon with suspicion in music. The headline of critic Jeremy Levine's review of “Good Together” in Pop Matters talks about Lake Street Dive creating “obligatory fun.” Another critic, Matt Collar of AllMusic, said the disc “feels convivial and breezy, showcasing their warm group harmonies and a nice balance of stylistic influences.”

It's the group's first disc without guitarist-trumpet player Mike “McDuck” Olson, who arguably was most influential in the band coalescing at school. He left during the pandemic, no longer wanting to travel. James Cornelison replaced him on guitar. Keyboard player Bermiss joined the band in 2017, supplementing original members Price, Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese.

“Akie's addition to the band was something that helped us create a lot more space in the music, which was something that we were looking for,” Price said.

In 2022, Lake Street Dive released its second EP of cover songs, taking on The Pointer Sisters, Shania Twain, the Cranberries and the Bacharach-David classic “Anyone Who Had a Heart” in the eclectic mix.

It's a fun attention-getting device for the band, whose cover of the Jackson 5's “I Want You Back” was a viral video early in their career, with a key endorsement by Kevin Bacon. Their live take on “Bohemian Rhapsody” received notice, too.

They're careful not to let it overshadow their own music: A Nantucket show's 22-song set earlier this month had only Hall and Oates' “Rich Girl” and Bermiss' “Alone Again” as covers.

They enjoy stripping other artists' songs down to their essence, Price said.

“You learn a lot by learning songs that you love,” she said. “You realize what makes a song stand on its own, what makes a groove and what's pivotal to the performance. That's influenced our own songwriting, as well. It's an education and a gateway for fans.”


David Bauder has written about music for The Associated Press since 1987. Follow him at http://twitter.com/dbauder.

07/10/2024 15:10 -0400

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