Two bands find the right amount of soul
Soul music and Motown are not exactly the first influences that leap to mind when one thinks about the Boston rock and pop landscape. But lately a healthy dose of old-school R&B history has seeped into the grooves and beats of a music scene long defined by its guitar-centric, garage-punk roots.
Case in point: Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents and Young Tremors, two emerging bands featuring familiar musical faces around town, play a pair of shows tonight to celebrate new works that, directly or indirectly, owe an audible debt to the charm and chime of ’60s soul, and Detroit dance music in particular.
Young Tremors mine a garage R&B flavor on their new EP, “Very Nice, Very Nice,’’ while Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents plug directly into Motown’s mainline with “Keeping Time,’’ a full-length debut that indulges singer-songwriter Jen D’Angora’s love of vintage soul and girl-group confections. In fact, D’Angora wrote one song, “Love in Ruins,’’ as an homage to the Shangri-Las and their producer-songwriter, Shadow Morton. “This album,’’ she says, “wouldn’t exist without them.’’
“Those girl-group melodies were ingrained in my head from stuff I had listened to my whole life,’’ says D’Angora, who grew up in Plymouth and also plays in the local garage-rock outfit the Downbeat 5 and, before that, played in the punk-leaning Dents. “I really wanted to do something where I wrote all the songs, because I think you really grow when you take on something like that.’’
When the Dents broke up, she says, “it was the perfect opportunity to ask myself what was next. I felt like I needed to challenge myself musically. The other bands were definitely based on pop sensibilities, but with an edge. I wondered what it would be like if I took off a bit of the rough stuff.’’
Around the time D’Angora was writing the batch of songs that would wind up on “Keeping Time,’’ her husband (and Deelinquents’ bassist) Ed Valauskas, a producer-engineer at Q Division Studios in Somerville, had been assembling a band of local musicians for a Nick Lowe tribute concert he was putting together.
“We had rehearsed a ton for that because we wanted to get it right, and we played one show,’’ says Valauskas, who also plays with local raunch-rock fixtures the Gentlemen. “And we thought, ‘Wow, it’s a drag that we’re never going to get to play together again. So, when Jen came up with this idea, I thought, You know what? I have the band.’’
Like the Shangri-Las (which included four sisters), Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents is something of a family affair. In addition to enlisting her husband, D’Angora recruited her sister, Beka, and lead guitarist Tony Goddess’s wife, Samantha, to sing harmonies. Lest anyone conjure crystal visions of a dysfunctional Fleetwood Mac, D’Angora offers a different analogy. “It’s almost like the Partridge Family,’’ she says.
Although the band is a late entry into a retro-soul revival that includes singers such as Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones, Valauskas is no stranger to retro-dipped R&B, having produced Brookline native Eli “Paperboy’’ Reed & the True Loves’ 2008 album, “Roll With You.’’ (Speaking of old-school R&B from Boston making its mark, Reed’s major label debut, “Come and Get It,’’ comes out next month on Capitol Records.)
D’Angora’s husk-and-honey voice sounds like a perfect match for her material on “Keeping Time’’ (the title song, by the way, was written to the beat of Jen’s daily hike to the Davis Square T station). Still, the singer was nervous when recording started. Unlike copping a cool attitude amid a phalanx of guitars or winging it over a wall of distorted noise, it’s hard to hide behind a Motown-styled melody. “I was scared about the fact that I had to hit all the notes,’’ D’Angora says. “That was the thing I was most anxious about.’’
Meanwhile, Valauskas says he’s finally playing the music he’s always loved, thanks to the work of legendary Motown session bassist James Jamerson, who played a mostly uncredited yet critical role by performing on virtually all of the label’s hit singles.
Young Tremors singer-bassist Alan Levesque feels the same way about Jamerson. In his previous outfit the Radio Knives, the former Boston Conservatory composition major applied boisterous punk to blistering volume. But with Young Tremors, which also includes two ex-members of the Cambridge garage-greasers the Hyphens (singer-guitarist Dave Kichen and guitarist Bob Gampert) and drummer Joe Polevy, there’s a dialed-back emphasis on well-placed hooks.
“When I left Radio Knives, I wanted to get away from the in-your-face guitar thing,’’ says Levesque, whose band kicks off a month-long residency at the Midway Cafe tonight. “All I really wanted to do was come up with some bass lines that were representative of Jamerson. I really love everything the man has ever done. This was the happy medium.’’
While no one is likely ever to confuse Young Tremors with the Four Tops, EP tracks such as “It’s Alright’’ and “Chain Letter’’ sound like a funky R&B groove filtered through the Jam. At the band’s core, however, the sound of the Motor City rumbles. “Detroit is the theme,’’ Levesque says. “I have no idea why I gravitate toward that city. I’ve never even visited it. But I just love the music that comes out of there.’’