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The Cat Empire
Two Shoes
Velour Music (USA)/ Virgin-EMI (UK)
www.thecatempire.com


Sprinkle some Latin salsa, reggae/ska, hip-hop/scat on jumping jazz and you get Cuban-jazz, which is the mixture that The Cat Empire acquire on their debut release Two Shoes, produced by the band and Jerry Boys. Although Cuban-jazz is affiliated with beach parties, Miami dance club music, and New Orleans' Mardi Gras, it's been rare to find the vibe of the Caribbean islands in Melbourne, Australia, which is the hometown of the sextet The Cat Empire.

It was in 1999 when core band members Oliver McGill (piano, keyboards, recorders, tubular bells, backing vocals), Felix Riebl (lead vocals, chariotti, percussions), and Ryan Monro (double bass, bass guitar, backing vocals) came together and began laying the foundation for what has become The Cat Empire. By 2003, the trio settled into a sextet that included Harry James Angus (2nd lead vocals, harmony vocals, trumpet, recorders, resonator), Will Hull-Brown (drums, shouts), and Jamshid "Jumps" Khadiwala (turntable, tambourines, clave, shouts). The tracks on their album have a jam band style sonorousness and collaborative interaction, which prompts waves of spontaneity in the shouts and tempo shifts and lively exchanges between instrumental parts. The music is jubilant and giddy and entices hips to swing, feet to move, and fingers to snap along, even from the most reluctant of listeners. Adding to the elation in the music is a cheerful brass section called The Empire Horns, with parts arranged by Ross Irwin.

The energetic vibe of the brass section on the opening track "Sly" is surrounded by salsa beats and rap style vocals. It has a party vibe like The Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" and Smashmouth's "All Star." The funky rhythms go on the blitz as the layering of instrument parts elevate hand in hand in accordance with each other. There is spontaneity and order in the jamboree as the rumba-tinted hip swinging beats on "In My Pocket" are shadowed by reggae grooves, jangly percussion and tingly bell chimes. There is gypsy style jamming in the tune, spuming like Calexico and The Brazilian Girls, with sing along choruses that add to the jubilant horn motions.

The motions are reduced a few levels on "Lullaby", with light hip-hop beats and slow bobbing vocals. The sparse clips of turntable scratching in the background are swirled in with the Spanish-accented jazz horns and the New Orleans style soul in the movements. The flow is easy going, but quickly rises with the zesty tambourines on "The Car Song." The wicked organ vamp on the tune is engulfed by dance beats and hip-hop vocals with small doses of turntable scratching. The lyrics tap into the band's themes: "Someday I'll get that car to start/ Someday I'll learn how to drive too."

The Cat Empire's lyrical themes seem to center around sexy women, mistakes made in life, aspirations wanting to be realized, and the strife of war and conflict. In fact, the words are about anything that has been unforgettable in their lives. The lyrics are influenced by the world around them, whether it's a girl in a club they can't keep their eyes off of or a war going on across the globe from them. The lyrics talk about memories and reflecting on them, like on "Protons, Neutrons, Electrons" when the vocals muse: "I've done too much of some things and not enough of others, just like all life lovers." The song has a Vaudeville style in the instrument rotations with burlesque flavored horn movements. The light percussions and wood pipes are adorned by a jazz infused piano melody whooped up by hip-hop/scat vocals, quavering tambourines, and shuffling jazz drum strikes. The brass section is low keyed, like in the title track, swimming along soft rolling bass notes and ska-fringed instrument motions similarly to the dance beats and harmonizing of Pepper. Riebl's vocal pitch, particularly on this track, has a resonance like Ray Davies' (of The Kinks) timbre. The instruments and vocals work as one unit flowing and ebbing in unison.

The reggae influences are most noticeable on "The Chariot" and "Party Started" with feverish horns and cushiony bass notes that ease the flow. The spicy Cuban-tinged piano motif on "Sol y Sambra" is filled with hip swinging beats, flashy cymbal action, and lots of zing in the jazz-tempered brass section. The Cat Empire play with tempo changes and dynamics, especially on the final two tracks "Saltwater" and "The Night That Never End." The tempo fluctuates between lively and lounging, and from hip shaking to slow, finger-snapping beats. The sunny piano segments are pumped with light chorus line drum kicks and a gypsy ruckus in the movements. The piano and drum exchanges are softly tussled and melodically strewn.

The Cat Empire has Cuban-jazz in their blood without ever being natives of the Caribbean islands. They have the spontaneity of The Good, The Bad, And The Queen and the excitement of Toubab Krewe. Their debut album transcends genres and works on so many levels, especially World Music, literally meaning music for the world to enjoy.

-Susan Frances

Track listing:
1. Sly
2. In My Pocket
3. Lullaby
4. The Car Song
5. Two Shoes
6. The Chariot
7. Sol y Sambra
8. Party Started
9. Proton, Neutrons, Electrons
10. Saltwater
11. The Night That Never End


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