Sometimes success comes full-circle, and no matter how much you achieve over time, you wind up back where you started. For Dave’s True Story, a jazz-pop duo that features composer and songwriter David Cantor and vocalist Kelly Flint, such a return to the beginning is only a marker of how far they’ve come.
In 1994, DTS released their first, self-titled CD, a limited press run that introduced the world to the off-kilter songs of Cantor and the gorgeous voice of Flint. Word quickly spread throughout the New York jazz scene about this little gem of an album, and it became a cult favorite in rapid time, as well as netting DTS the Kerrville New Music award and landing the act in a glowing piece in the Sunday New York Times. Things snowballed after that, and DTS wound up recording two more albums (1997’s Sex Without Bodies and 2000’s Unauthorized), further solidifying their careers, and garnering the band spots on television and various compilation albums.
But, as happens so often with independent music, the eponymous first album had long gone out of print. And it probably would have remained that way if it weren’t for the success of the recent indie film, Kissing Jessica Stein. DTS had granted the filmmakers permission to use two of their early songs in the film, and the song “Crazy Eyes” became the background track for the major scene implied in the film’s title. Unfortunately, due to licensing issues, the DTS songs were left off the commercial soundtrack release. But when the film’s audiences began to clamor for the song, Cantor and Flint decided that the timing was right to re-release their lost album.
It’s a good thing they did. Dave’s True Story is a precious album, immediately charming and impossible to resist. Dave’s True Story makes music for pop fans that like a little jazz, and jazz fans that like a little pop. Cantor’s tales are heartwarming, but just slanted enough to seem a little loopy. Whether discussing lost love, sex, or past lives, the songs are clever and fun and just a tinge naughty. Musically, Cantor’s training as a jazz guitarist gives these songs their main drive, even when the guitar is used sparingly. Somewhere between smooth jazz, lounge, and adult contemporary pop, the tunes are cool and sophisticated, guided by saxes, trumpets, vibes, and often the simplicity and style of Cantor’s single guitar. But it’s the combination of the relaxed but playful music and Flint’s sultry voice that really makes DTS shine. Smoky, loungy, and slyly sexy, Flint recalls the late Susannah McCorkle in her tone and delivery, infused with emotion and beauty and a crisp clarity that draws the listener in and lets the words of Cantor’s songs dominate the focus.
The disc opens with the up-tempo swing of “Sequined Mermaid Dress” (the other song briefly featured in Kissing Jessica Stein), setting the pace for the clever lyricism and sad sexiness of the rest of the album. A song about a woman who “transforms herself into a Lorelei” after having her heart broken, it’s not hard to project this image on Flint, whose spry voice is instantly seductive. Alternately, “Another Hit” finds Flint singing the common musician’s lament with all the heartbreak of a lonely drink in a lonely bar. But it’s “Last Go ‘Round” that find Flint at her most painful and beautiful, mixing a clipped fragility into the strength of her voice that makes this slow-burner one of the most memorable songs on the disc.
Cantor’s songwriting talents are also on early display here. His lyrical skills are consistently strong, particularly on “Can’t Get You Out of My System” and “Last Go ‘Round”, and his ability to tell a story full of fleshed-out characters makes every track work. The one track that Cantor lends his voice to, “Flexible Man”, is one of the most overtly sexual and yet funny jazz tracks I’ve ever heard. The changes from the swing of “Mermaid Dress” to the European flavors of “Somme Bleues” to the Latin-spiced “Marissa” to the finger- and bass-popping “Like a Rock” are distinct, yet they all maintain the sort of casual ease that permeates Dave’s True Story. And then there’s “Crazy Eyes”, the Kissing Jessica Stein song, which is about as perfect a blend between pop and jazz as it gets.
Taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by a re-release, DTS chose to include bonus tracks on the 2002 edition. The first, “Joey”, is steeped in retro-lounge sounds, and would be an easy selection for inclusion on Columbia’s Ultra Lounge series. Also included are two covers, the first a faithful and energetic version of “Fever”, and the second a chipper run through “Blue Moon”. The final bonus is a remix of “Crazy Eyes” that thickens the bass and bumps the tempo ever-so-slightly.
For an independent jazz band, Dave’s True Story has managed to achieve an impressive amount of fame and success. From cult hit to mass market compilation albums, the duo has proven that their strengths are durable and repeatable. But it all began here with this self-titled album, and returning to this shows that the magical collaboration between Cantor and Flint was destined to enchant listeners from the very start.