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The Cat Empire
So Many Nights
Velour Recordings
www.thecatempire.com


Melbourne, Australia's The Cat Empire must have enjoyed all of the attention that they received for their 2007 release Two Shoes because the sextet are back again for another round with their latest release So Many Nights. Produced by guitarist John Porter, So Many Nights branches the band out into different styles like soft rock and acoustic pop while keeping a few tracks that maintain the band's dancehall funk/island flavored jazz romps, but their good-time band jams have been molded into contemporary pop and easy listening melodies for the most part. Still with two lead singers, percussionist Felix Riebl - whose hip-hop/reggae jolts fit snugly into the pockets of the rhythmic grooves - and trumpeter Harry James Angus - whose bluesy textures have a charcoal burning plume - The Cat Empire is like they were before but culminating a modern pop sound in their funky jazz stylistics by incorporating more brass, guitar and orchestral strings in the lacings of their melodies.

Those larger horn sections include trumpet/flugelhorn player Ross Irwin and trombonist Kieran Conrau whose flickering Mariachi-drenched fuses on tracks like "Sunny Moon" and "Radio Song" saunter alongside the salsa moves, shimmies, and box steps making up the melodic décor. The track "The Darkness" has whipping Spanish percussions that accrue into an inflammation of bolero-styled dances and clambering horns spinning into wild Turkish dervishes. It is a track that shows the breadth of the band's artistic abilities and their openness to adapt to different musical influences. The dancehall funk rubies stapling spokes of glimmer in the melodies of "Fishes" and "So Long" bask in suave jazzy horns and body pulsing rhythms from The Cat Empire's bassist Ryan Monro, drummer Will Hull-Brown, and percussionist/turntable scratcher Jamshid "Jumps" Khadiwala. The Cat Empire's keyboardist/organist Ollie McGill creates the whistling verses and sparks that seep into the nooks and crannies of "Lonely Moon" as Angus's vocals add hyphenations of falsettos that squeal across the melodic phrases.

The soft rock ballad of "No Longer There" has tender strings which are eclipsed by the chorus of organ parts and pulley of billowing rhythms honing an easy listening complexion. Other easy listening tracks include "Won't Be Afraid," "No Mountain," and "'Til The Ocean Takes Us All" showing that the band's lyrical content can be autobiographical or resound with a narrative voicing like in "'Til The Ocean Takes Us All." The track has Angus on lead vocals singing, "This is the story of two lover's like twins/ They would do lovers things, blame original sin/ Look into their eyes only for the meaning of the hour as if their only everything existed in their power/ Yet low and behold they drifted on a stream humming/ How does it go?/ Oh life is but a dream/ Well the stream became a river/ And the river starts to tow/ They, they didn't notice at all/ And on this black day the people shouted from the shore/ Screaming 'Stop gazing and swim to save us all'/ But the twins didn't hear at all/ They whispered nothings down the waterfall." Though the lyrics may turn to melancholy, the music is suspended by an uplifting vibe sometimes with a 60's psychedelic-toned organ, like in "Strong Coffee," or the country western tint of "Voodoo Cowboy," and sometimes the band heralds clips of jazzy pop romps that sound like a James Bond theme song like in "Wanted To Write A Love Song."

The Cat Empire have become strong songwriters on So Many Nights, but they subdued the vivaciousness that the band pursued in Two Shoes. Two Shoes bolsters more dance-tracks and a circus troup vibe, whereas So Many Nights has more contemporary pop and easy listening tracks. Still the band has some songs that are simply custom built for Caribbean festivals. The Cat Empire have rejuvenated Calypso-pop and funky jazz making this style acceptable for mainstream radio like only a handful of others like Lily Allen have.

-Susan Frances


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