With just one cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” uploaded to YouTube four years ago, Boston outfit Lake Street Dive became an overnight sensation. However, that didn’t mean that the band was brand new; in fact, the consummate musicians behind the soul-pop sensation have been playing throughout the United States since they first met while attending the New England Conservatory of Music over a decade ago. While the band might be known primarily for the blue-eyed vocal stylings of lead singer Rachael Price, it’s the instrumentalists and harmonists backing her powerhouse vocals that have truly sparked Lake Street Dive’s rise.
Amongst these instrumentalists is bassist (and side pony enthusiast) Bridget Kearney, whose meaty, vibrant plucks at her upright instrument have been an especially strong staple of the band’s live shows. Engaged in jazz, R&B, bluegrass, and even Bawa music — inspired by Ghana traditions — outside of her trademark contributions to Lake Street Dive, Kearney is also a skilled vocalist, songwriter, and composer in her own right. Considering her Conservatory training and the 13 years of touring and recording experience under her belt, it’s actually quite surprising that Kearney has never released her own album until recently. Instead, she has often opted to collaborate with other esteemed artists over a slew of various musical influences. With Won’t Let You Down, she is finally stepping forward to establish a solo sound.
The first thing that Lake Street Dive fans will notice about the LP is that Kearney embraces similar sonic influences as on her main project. At the least, the album embraces retro vibes like R&B, blues, and even ’60s and ’70s funk. Admittedly, however, the music on Won’t Let You Down is less easily digestible than the growing commercialization evoked by the Starbucks soul that she tracks with her famous bandmates.
“Living in a Cave” is a standout example of the relatively layered production of Kearney’s solo output, setting her melodic bassline front and center amidst a slew of other compelling instrumental contributions (ranging from some slithery electric guitar to plucky synth, drums, and even a bit of a horn section to back it all up). Her self-made harmonies delicately set the scene for a Rubber Soul-era Beatles vibe, too, and the whole thing feels like a more intricate production than what many may have expected.
The record maintains those promises from beginning to end. And speaking of endings, Kearney tastefully tops off her first solo endeavor with a rendition of her own LSD tune from Side Pony, “So Long”. Fortunately, Kearney tackles the song with such palpable emotion that her performance effortlessly stands beside Price’s original despite the Lake Street lead’s comparably powerful vocal qualities.
All in all, Won’t Let You Down is an album that stays true to its name. Whether or not you’re a fan of her contributions to bands like Lake Street Dive or Joy Kills Sorrow, there is a strong chance that you can appreciate the mature, masterful production of her first solo effort. Here’s to hoping that it won’t be over another decade before Kearney graces our ears with something of her own again.