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Caravan of Thieves: Kiss Kiss
by George Graham
(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/11/2015)
Among the various retro trends taking place in the music world, there are quite a few different schools of pre-rock influence showing up in contemporary bands, styles that likely pre-date even the parents of the band members. Sounds of the swing era and even going back to vaudeville have been the inspiration for quite a few groups who have taken the influence and run with it to new creative places, rather than just re-creating the old sound. Among the groups we have featured on this review series over the past couple of years are The Hot Sardines, Good Co., the Jitterbug Vipers, Le Percolateur, Jill Barber, and Who Hit John?, to name a few.
This week we have another band who draws on pre-rock styles and goes in interesting directions with a definite whimsical bent. The group is called Caravan of Thieves and their new fourth album is called Kiss Kiss.
Caravan of Thieves, who are based in Bridgeport, Connecticut, started as a husband-wife duo of James “Fuzz” Sangiovanni and Carrie Sangiovanni. Fuzz Sangiovanni had been involved with the band Deep Banana Blackout, who specialized in New Orleans style funk. At first, they did music for their own enjoyment, playing in parks and the like. In 2008, they became a quartet with the addition of violinist Ben Dean and bassist Brian Anderson, and ramped up their musical pursuits, releasing their first album Bouquet in 2009, following that with a live album the next year, and another studio album in 2012. Along the way, they added additional instruments like resonator guitars and as they describe it, “an orchestra of kitchen appliances for some additional percussive bang.” But they have kept the sound acoustic.
Mr. and Mrs. Sangiovanni write all the material and share the vocals. They are good at writing songs in the musical style of the 1920s through 1940s, with some Gypsy Swing, early jazz, Vaudeville and what sounds like English Music Hall influence. Lyrically, they create songs that at first seem on the classic songwriting topics, but on close listening, one realizes that the lyrics are about some, what the band describe as “creepy characters,” and some decidedly different twists on the love song. Their arrangements range from just the duo of the Sangiovannis on up to the full band with additional players to give it a swing-era sound, plus an additional string player. It’s all done in a spirit of good fun, even though it’s at a fairly high level of sophistication.
Like many songs of the earlier era, when 78 rpm records were limited to about three minutes, the 12 songs on this CD are all rather short, but still manage to make their marks through the group’s creative arrangements with the added percussion, plus their clever material.
Leading off is a track called Disappear, which fits into their self-described Gypsy swing mode, with their added percussion and the strings. Fuzz Sangiovanni does some appropriately hot guitar work. <<>>
That leads into an original song called This Must Be Love which features the group’s array of non-standard percussion objects. It’s a love song with the group’s not-exactly-typical lyrical metaphors. The group’s fun in playing the song is infectious. <<>>
Another whimsical facet of the band comes out on a track called Home which is a kind of mixture of Vaudeville, English Music Hall and hints of circus music, with appropriately quirky lyrics. <<>>
A cleverly entertaining track is called Wasting My Time, whose lyrical premise is a kind of backhanded love song. The band assumes a swing-era sound hinting at the Andrews Sisters from the days of yore. <<>>
Parents is another song with the band’s quirky lyrical perspective. It’s about a ne’er-do-well whose parents get blamed for his behavior. <<>>
A bit more conventional a song is I Got You, which Caravan of Thieves perform as the original duo of the just the Sangiovanni couple. <<>>
If any tune could be considered close to rock in sound on this acoustic album, it’s Punch which seems to be a very ambivalent love song. <<>>
The album ends with what is about the only un-diluted love song, Stranger, though it’s not without its quirks. The rhythm harkens back to the swing era, while there is plenty of interesting percussion happening. It’s a high-spirited closer to this creative album. <<>>
Kiss Kiss, the new fourth CD by the Connecticut-based quartet Caravan of Thieves is one of the more clever and creative albums to come out of the current pre-rock retro movement. The group incorporates the influences of Vaudeville, English Music Hall, and early swing plus the rhythmic approach and attitude of rock & roll for a record that is lyrically interesting in a whimsical way, and a lot of fun musically. The group sound as if they are having a great old time doing what they are doing and that is apparent throughout the record.
Our grade for sound quality is about a B+. The mix is rather good in capturing the kind of energetic and unbounded quality of the music. The group’s sound was supported by some overdubbing, but I don’t hold that against them. The production was tasteful. But the overall sound is a bit murky, and there is the usual over-compression squashing out the dynamics of the group, with everything sounding at the same volume.
One possible reason for the increasing numbers of groups like Caravan of Thieves who do music influenced by the sounds from their grandparents’ day is the general complexion of today’s synthetic soul-less computer driven commercial pop, when even the vocals are electronically altered beyond anything that sounds human. People doing honest, live-performance driven music with acoustic instruments seems like an excellent antidote to that. Caravan of Thieves’ Kiss Kiss is a prime example.
(c) Copyright 2015 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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