The pull of old soul and R&B has extended all the way to Australia. Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes’ debut album, Baby Caught The Bus, bears a resemblance — in its unabashed love of the old days, if not quite its sound — to releases on New York’s Daptone label. But it’s best paired with Time’s All Gone, the recent album from the American Nick Waterhouse, or Minute By Minute, the latest release from the Englishman James Hunter. Call it nostalgia, revivalism, retro-leaning, whatever: there are walking bass lines, swinging beats, and blaring horns, all contained in compact tracks that rarely pass the three minute mark.
Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes sing about love in a simpler time. The Rackettes may well be bangin’, but there’s not much bangin’ in their songs. People communicate with notes and letters; texts, Facebook, and Twitter are nowhere to be found.
In step with Browne and co.’s old-fashioned approach to love, their sonics channel a pumping mixture of R&B, soul, and rock from the early ’50s, late ’60s. (The gang managed to get some valuable international attention when “Love Letter”, the first track on the album, was picked to provide one of those classy Heineken commercials with the requisite dose of throwback cool.) This is music for doing the jerk, or maybe the twist. “Far Too Late” wraps together the Miracles’ “You Got a Hold on Me” and the Ronettes’ “Why Won’t They Let Us Fall in Love”, while “Aeroplane” reimagines the Seeds’ “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” in a piano ballad setting.
Browne’s got a good voice and a good shout, with tough attitude to spare. But you sense she’s holding back, smoldering underneath but never bursting into flame. (Though threat creeps into her voice when warning her lover about another girl who’s trying to steal him away on “She Plays Up to You”.) Backing vocalists are present in almost every song, doo-wopping softly and sweetly, smoothing away any sharp edges.
On the album’s title track, Browne sings, “My baby caught the bus / When I was out of town / He said he wouldn’t wait around / . . . Who am I / To think he wouldn’t leave me/ Maybe he’ll be back again, I still believe.” But why’s she waiting around for this loser? She’s too strong for that. She assures listeners she’ll “be fine”, and wonders, “How many tears must this poor girl cry?” Hopefully not too many, as she’s got the pipes and the sass to turn the tables on the men in her life. Let baby catch the bus. He’ll come running back in the end.