Music Reviews

Left Hand Smoke

Nonsense Parade


Seattle-based Left Hand Smoke’s eponymously-titled 2000 debut took the Northwest by surprise with its modern-yet-authentic take on the Stax/Volt formulas – as well as the early Stones and other like-minded, r&b-influenced English bands of the mid-Sixties. For Nonsense Parade, the band ingeniously enlisted the talents of legendary vocalist Kathi McDonald (the Ikettes, the Stones, Big Brother, the list goes on) and Hammond master Wayne Horvitz to create an amazingly authentic early-to-mid-‘70s sound. It is sorely tempting to label the result as the band’s chronological progression into Exile On Main Street territory, but this disc – wonderfully co-produced by Jet City studio guru Garey Shelton – deserves more than an off-the-cuff description. With brothers Ben (vocals, keyboard, harp) and Will (guitar) Mish at the forefront, Left Hand Smoke – along with their esteemed guests – intricately weaves a tapestry of sonic subtleties in their third self-released album.

However, the band’s tapestry-weaving takes a song or two to become apparent, as the first track, “Fame’s Around The Corner,” is about as a subtle as a kick to the groin. The song has “single” written all over it, from the opening charge of Will Mish’s and Ronan O’Mahoney’s Richards-reverent guitars to McDonald’s shades-of-1972 backing wails. “Get What You Deserve” is another Mish-McDonald one-two punch; Mish’s roadhouse ivory-pounding and his brother’s rousing guitar makes for a shouter that could be a cover of an unreleased Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels tune. Another nod to the Stones – an old LHS crowd-pleaser, “Sinners and Lovers,” features a Watts-signature snare crack starting a organ-fueled groove, supported by the toe-tappin’ rhythms of O’Mahoney, drummer Andrew Cloutier and bassist Andrew Scaglione, and topped with Will’s best Keith Richards impression

LHS takes more well-aimed stabs at rollicking roadhouse r&b (“Wait Till The Morning Time”), (“Song For Sadie”), manages to echo both Donald Fagen and ’70s-era Stevie Wonder ( “Nobody Loves You”), and borrows a page from Paul Simon’s multi-layered rhythm repertoire (“African Sun”). From start to finish, Nonsense Parade seems to reflect a bandleader who has managed to put some personal and professional matters in perspective. Certainly, the fiery, disc-ending title track and the raucous opening number address the group’s struggles in the music business. However, this album – like its well-crafted predecessors – shines brightest with its ballads, an irony considering the band’s reputation for high-octane live performances.

Will Mish, apart from his well-known blues influences, is a disciple of the likes of Kenny Burrell and Grant Green, and that headphone-tutelage has never been more apparent than his work on “Some Peace Tonight” – a gently marvelous lullaby that Will tiptoes through with great skill.

O’Mahoney’s breezy strumming underscores Will’s tremolo-washed punctuation in two other hip-swaying ballads – “Born On New Year’s Day” and “Beautiful Soon.” The latter represents Ben Mish at a hook-creating peak, a gorgeously-written number that highlights Horvitz’ Hammond handiwork. On this hit-to-be, Horvitz once again provides an understated cushion of melodic currents for Mish’s slightly-raspy voice to float upon.

Nonsense Parade is not a perfect record – it lacks a another dose of power in the middle to anchor its blistering bookends. In these days of vanilla-flavored musical regurgitations, though, the disc is about as good an example of rock ‘n’ roll craftmanship that one will find on the “new release” shelves. When a young band begins its career sounding like 40-something barroom veterans, “maturity” is a hard thing to come by. However, this album – if only it was pressed on vinyl, it would be an instant AOR staple, if that format was still viable – reveals a group that, through hard touring and dedication, has managed to gracefully age even further, even though most of the quintet’s members have yet to reach 30.

Left Hand Smoke:

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