Hot damn! I’ve been waiting on this since I first heard Nouvellas a couple of years back with what was to become their first single Satisfied (DOWNLOAD HERE) and, indeed, the driving Stax rhythms-meets-60s garage-rock approach of that track (the second on this album) is utterly representative of the sound of a band who rose from the ashes of more conventional New York soul/funk outfit The Dansettes. Nouvellas stand out from the rest of the retro soul-influenced crowd for three main reasons, the first is their ability to deliver consistently classic tunes (not something I say lightly) and you simply won’t find a weak link on here in that respect. The second is the Telecaster pyrotechnics of guitarist Dennis Pierce, a man who plays like the second coming of James Burton (the original ‘wild man of telecaster’ who played with Dale Hawkins and Elvis, among others) and who has more twang per note than Zebedee playing mouth harp on a trampoline. Thirdly, in Jaime and Leah you’ve got the unusual situation of a band with two frontwomen.
Yeah – you heard me – two front women. So how does that work out? Pretty well as it goes and just as the band’s music is a hybrid of soul and garage rock, so the vocals reflect this. Not pure soul vocals then, like – say – retro soul queen Sharon Jones (for whom Jaime and Leah have both done backing vox) though if we’re being honest neither of the girls has that kind of voice. But then a pure soul voice wouldn’t be punky enough for what Nouvellas are serving up musically. If you think along the lines of Detroit Cobras’ Rachel Nagy but even lower-fi you’re ballpark. Jaime’s got more grit, Leah’s a bit more fey and they work best on the mellower tracks – Don’t Count On Me and These Days Are Gone both of which have a dark fifties vibe. Elsewhere they frequently sing simultaneous lead vox which might be a bit much for some though if you’re down with the raucous garage-y effect (and I am) you’ll find this no hardship. On the louder, funkier, rockier tracks they fare best when each has room to breathe and the fiery Reputation, where the girls tag team lines and verses, is the best example, as well as once again showcasing Pierce’s impressive fretwork and sound. As for lyrical content – that is pure soul – it seems like every cut on here is either about not being able to hold onto your man or not being able to get the man you want. Nuff said.
Google Nouvellas and you’ll find a range of analogies which strive to capture the flavour of their melting pot of influences, ‘Dusty Springfield backed by the Yardbirds’ for one. The point is that while both the funky rhythms used by this band and their garage rock sound and approach existed in the sixties, they weren’t present in one single act simultaneously – and if anyone knows different – let me know as I’d like to hear an act which did combine them. What Nouvellas have done is fuse elements in a way that works like a charm. If you like a single one of the flavours in the make up of their sound you’re liable to love the way they’ve combined them with the others. This LP is the complete opposite of auto-tuned crap that is still being churned out by the bucketload despite Jay Z. If there was any justice this band would be making bigger waves. But there isn’t much justice is there? Especially in the music business. Nouvellas’ll probably end up being massive in Japan and get a flurry of press attention sometime when the next Jack White references them as one of his favourite bands. There are worse fates though and the hard-gigging, crate-digging Nouvellas do it for the love anyway. Put simply my friends, this is rock n soul – but like it never quite was, back in the day.