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The Graham Album Review #1846

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Good Co: Big Time Business
by George Graham

(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/3/2016)

It used to be that the idea of sampling music, taking bits of existing recordings and manipulating them and using them to make other music, was a kind of novel thing. But for some time now a lot of the hip-hop world has come to depend on it. There are those who would argue, including in court, that such a thing is stealing intellectual property. But in today’s internet connected world with seemingly everybody taking content from elsewhere and using it without the slightest hesitation, such appropriating has become ubiquitous. It’s still most often used in hip-hop and dance, based in many cases from what dance DJs do with mixing music. But it can take interesting directions when used outside of the usual stylistic territory for sampling. A few weeks ago, we featured an album by singer-songwriter Joshua Hyslop who incorporated some classical samples into his music.

This week we have the new, third album by a group called Good Co, who describe themselves as Electro Swing, making a music that is often dance-oriented by weaving in samples of old swing era recordings from the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

Good Co are from the Seattle area, and was formed by trumpeter, composer and synthesist Carey Rayburn who heard this kind of “electro-swing” mash-up coming from European dance DJs. Intrigued, Rayburn set out to do his own take on the genre, sampling the old swing-era jazz and creating sometimes whimsical music around them. Their debut called Electro Swing for the Masses was released in 2012 and we featured it at the time on this album review series. The project then was mainly Rayburn with a series of added musicians. Now Good Co. has become a more coherent group and they call themselves America’s only live electro swing band, actually performing their music before audiences, rather than laboring in the studio with the samples to create the sounds. The snippets of old jazz are still there, sometimes providing a rhythmic drive, and more often than not, providing a decidedly retro sound, mixed with the more contemporary elements. And in keeping with the retro approach many of the original songs are done very much in the style of the swing era, including in the lyrics. There is a bit more of the live group feel on this album, but it maintains the retro swing sound, down to the texture of the recording. The regular group on the album consists of bassist Dune Butler, Michael Conklin on sax, Jacob Sele on keyboards, Colin Pulkrabek on trombone, Tim Tacket on drums and vocalist Sasha Nollman. Trumpeter Carey Rayburn composed almost all the material, with some help by a couple of the others, including some lyrics by Ms. Nollman.

As on previous Good Co. recordings, the music is a generally lighthearted mix of retro stylistic bits, with the emphasis on danceablility, but there are a couple of slower tunes that could be described as ballads. The combination of lyrics and their stylistic conglomeration is sometimes tongue-in-cheek, with moments aimed at authenticity, including with some old-fashioned corny lyrics, which can be punctuated by some synthesizer sounds.

Leading off is a track called Move on Over, aimed at establishing the band’s dance credentials, but it’s hardly the best the group has to offer. The stylistic mix is not as well integrated. <<>>

That is followed by a definite highlight of the album, New Shoes, which mixes the electro-swing with the old samples and their own fun lyrics. <<>>

Another clever track is Set Me Free which draws on a sample of what sounds like Django Reinhardt, integrated with the live playing by the band members. <<>>

An interesting sonic juxtaposition comes on the song Holding On, which features a spacey synthesizer line together with the retro sound via the samples. The overall mood comes across as a kind of torch song. <<>>

A track capturing the tenor of the swing era is Ride with Me an old-fashioned song evoking the era of luxury rail travel. <<>>

The biggest departure in sound on the album is ballad called Here for You, which is just piano and Ms. Nollman’s vocal.

A further curious mixture comes on the track called Breaking Out, which has hints of a disco-style beat alternating with the samples of historical recordings. <<>>

Ms. Nollman also does the vocal on a novelty song called My Mailman, which has little if any of the samples. <<>>

Big Time Business, the new third release by the Seattle based so-called electro-swing band Good Co. is another fun and clever album using samples of old swing-era recordings integrated into their own sound. The group has evolved since their debut album nearly four years ago, into more of a live performance band, rather than a computer and sample-based sonic project. So they call themselves the country’s only live electro swing group, basing their sound on a style that got its start in Europe. Some tracks work out better than others, but for the most part, what they do is imaginative and done in a spirit of good humor. So it can be very entertaining.

Our grade for sound quality is what we gave their debut album, a “C-plus.” The samples they use originally appearing on 78 rpm records are obviously lo-fi, but the original new recordings are also degraded to give it that kind of sometimes tinny, scratchy sound, which I think is completely unnecessary.

With as much bad music as has come out of the electronic dance scene, there is usually someone who can make use of the technology to do something artistically worthwhile. Good Co. continues their fun mix of the old and the new cleverly interwoven.

(c) Copyright 2016 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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