The Bohemians | A Bon Soir at the Cabaret Bob (s/r)

cd_bohemians.jpgIn many ways, this whole record is meant to facilitate personal sharing and evolving romance.





It’s too bad that albums are forced into often misleading stylistic categories for marketing purposes, rather than described/promoted according to their ideal usage. Otherwise, the second album by St. Louis combo The Bohemians would surely get more attention if tagged “Ideal for Romance or Seduction.” That’s more helpful than saying this is a jazz-flavored, mostly acoustic, cabaret-pop recording with a European undercurrent.

Bob Bailey, the vocalist/songwriter who leads this strikingly original outfit, has an uncanny knack for conjuring moods of intimacy, and he does it without being cloying or sappy—no small feat. Bailey sounds like he’s done some traveling, experienced the highs and lows of l’amour, and concluded that there’s no greater paradise than the powerful connection between two compatible lovers. “I go crazy/ Over you baby/ Now I just want to play,” he sings in the imagistic “Golden Apples,” part of a remarkable trio of songs at the album’s climax. The way Bailey intones such lyrics in his whispery, nuanced voice gives them a potently seductive quality, and when encased in the sophisticated arrangements here, the effect is rather spellbinding.

Aided by a sympathetic ensemble that includes guitarist Lenny Mink, keyboard player Bill Murphy and bassist Bill Engel, Bailey’s music works multi-cultural wonders through his unconventional songwriting, evocative alternate guitar tunings and singular vision. His world is one of sharp details and sometimes surreal milieux—check out the languid “Climbing Up the Eiffel Tower” and hypnotic “Act of Contrition” for examples (the latter may be the catchiest song ever to feature an armadillo prominently in the lyrics). But it’s tunes like the exquisite “You Can Call Me Van Gogh” that are likely to hook more casual listeners. A nice companion piece to Don McLean’s “Vincent,” this elegant song finds Bailey at his vocal best, paying tribute to the legendary painter (“Call me Van Gogh/But it’s Vincent you should know”) while a soft, jazzy groove gets under your skin and subtly transports you to another time, another place. Late night radio oughta be playing stuff like this.

For variety, the sharp-edged slide guitar (played by Mike Killian) on “St. Elmo” and the cinematic “Tango Lamba” score points—how many pop records have you heard lately that allow you to spontaneously tango with your date, which this song certainly does? In fact, in many ways, this whole record is meant to facilitate personal sharing and evolving romance, culminating in the tuneful trilogy mentioned earlier. “Just Want You to Notice” is a little jazz-folk gem—adorned by feather-brush percussion and an achingly sincere vocal—that couldn’t be more appropriate soundrack music for a tete-a-tete on the cusp of turning seriously sensual. Then comes “Solange”—one of the disc’s real highlights. Offering an irresistible chord progression, a flawless arrangement and another perfect Bailey vocal, the tune grabs you and doesn’t let go, practically compelling you to reach out and gently pull your potential paramour closer. “You say that you need the time/ To get into the proper frame of mind,” Bailey sings, but this song helpfully cuts through all that. In other words, love’s on the menu, babe, and it’s time to feast! There are several moments of startling beauty in this tune, and the subsequent “Golden Apples” caps the trilogy in breezy fashion, until the Santana-flavored title cut sends you on your way with hopefully fresh inspiration.

Bailey sounds more European than American on A Bon Soir; there’s something almost Scandinavian about his upfront, slightly melancholy voice. But regardless of cultural origin, this is one rich, inviting platter—strongly recommended for sophisticates and anyone in need of some extra magic on that all-important next date. A | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Joao Gilberto, Tom Waits, The Real Tuesday Weld

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