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by Garon Cockrell
Leftover Cuties: “The Spark & The Fire” (2013) CD Review
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By Garon Cockrell
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July 24, 2013 5:16 p.m.

This continues to be a surprisingly good year for music
with the release of Leftover Cuties’ second album, The Spark & The Fire, an impressive collection of songs
combining jazz, pop and swing, with excellent lead vocals. This band is in the
same general realm as the Squirrel Nut Zippers, in as much as they take some
older styles and apply them to modern pop. And they do it so well. This band
also writes great material. All of the songs on The Spark & The Fire are originals. In “Once Again,” lead
vocalist Shirli McAllen sings, “Again I
arrive overjoyed/And I leave completely destroyed.” I like the way she
plays with the word “destroyed.” When
she sings later in that same song, “Still
I wonder what we could have been,” the horn soars, as if in answer.
The songs are really well-constructed, and have an
original feel in spite of being influenced by older styles (including some
elements of early 1960s rock, like the drumbeat to “What’s The Matter?”). This
album put me in such a good mood. Seriously, if you’re feeling a bit low, put
this on, and within a couple of minutes you’ll be dancing (or at least smiling)
your woes away. Part of that is due to the New Orleans influence heard in
several of the tracks. I’m looking forward to seeing this band in concert.
The album opens with “Thick And Thin,” which is a bright burst
of fun, with a bit of an old-time swing that is delightful, and even a bit of
an early rock and roll groove. And it’s a love song with a happy, positive
vibe, a song above not giving up, with lines like, “I’m going to fight for you until we get it right.” This song also
provides the album’s title in the lines, “Now
it breaks my spirit, it makes me so sad/To think of the spark and the fire we
once had.”
“One Heart” starts with a great groove on percussion,
with Shirli’s vocals soon coming in over the cool rhythm. And when the song
truly kicks in, her vocals become even more impressive. Seriously, this is a
great vocal performance. Shirli has a lot of power, a lot of control. And the
lyrics are pretty damn good. “The words
you never said, they haunt me/The ones you did were as sharp as a knife.” And
this song asks, “How many times can one
heart break?
Shirli gives another excellent vocal performance in
“Clarity,” a cool, late-night song that is simply gorgeous, and quite moving. Here
is a taste of the lyrics: “Oh babe, I wish you knew how beautiful you are/I wish
you’d see yourself only through my eyes/Then you’ll know in time this too shall
pass.” There is a quiet moment with just vocals and ukulele, on a later
repetition of the line “Oh babe, I wish you knew how beautiful you are.”
This song itself is so beautiful, and is one of the album’s best tracks.
“If Only It Could Be” is a great jazzy gem that is
tremendous fun, with a great 1940s vibe. It has a great groove on bass and
drums, and a totally fucking delicious instrumental section. There is also a
playful ending that makes me love the song even more. This is another of the CD’s
best tracks, and one of the year’s coolest tunes.
“Blind Man” provides more great vibes and grooves from
the past, but also with a very original feel, and another wonderful vocal
performance. I love the way this song builds and progresses, and I’m
particularly fond of the work on keys. “You’re
a blind man/Though you can clearly see/You’re a sad man/Without any reason to
“Shame” begins with a seriously cool groove on bass by
Austin Nicholsen. There is something very sexy about this song, in the bass,
and especially the vocals. The first lines are, “And to think I almost didn’t meet you/I almost didn’t know you exist.”
I imagine her in a long, slinky red dress singing in a small club after hours,
holding each patron spellbound. The song has that kind of feel. Yes, it’s another
of my favorites.
“Everyone” is an old-time New Orleans-style drinking
song. And is there anything better in this world? It’s totally delightful.
Shirli sings, “Everyone is a little
crazier this time of year,” and lunacy has never sounded so appealing. This
track features backing vocals by Kate Nicholsen, Tamara Watford, Clayton Joseph
Scott and Kelly Johnson, and has something of a party atmosphere, particularly
at the end.
The Spark & The
Fire ends with “I’ve Been Waiting,” a pretty and sweet tune. This is one
that really highlights Shirli’s vocal performance. When it kicks in, it has an
early 1960s feel.
CD Track List
  • Thick And Thin
  • One Heart
  • Once Again
  • Clarity
  • If Only It Could Be
  • All That Love
  • What’s The Matter?
  • Blind Man
  • Rise And Shine
  • Shame
  • Everyone
  • I’ve Been Waiting
  • Musicians
    Leftover Cuties are Austin Nicholsen on upright bass,
    ukulele and backing vocals; Mike Bolger on brass, keys, accordion and backing
    vocals; Shirli McAllen on vocals and ukulele; and Stuart Johnson on drums,
    percussion and backing vocals.
    Joining them on this release are Alex Budman on
    woodwinds, Ben Peeler on steel guitar, Jake Sinclair on guitar, and Kate
    Nicholsen on harmony vocals. Tamara Watford, Clayton Joseph Scott and Kelly
    Johnson provide backing vocals on “Everyone.”
    Leftover Cuties are based in Los Angeles (and for that, I
    am grateful, as it should give me plenty of opportunities to see them perform).
    The Spark & The Fire was released on July 23, 2013.
    (Note: I also posted this
    review on Michael Doherty's Music Log.)

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