Hello H(elsinki) H(udson) F(riend)s:
On its way to mainstream success as a jazz-pop sensation, Lake Street Dive put in frequent appearances at Club Helsinki Hudson, where audiences were enamored of the soulful, genre-leaping musical antics of the modest, rootsy quartet from Boston. We got to know them up-close and personal, as a unit but also as immensely talented individuals.
As much as I loved Rachael Price for her incredible retro-soul vocals, I always had a special place in my heart for Bridget Kearney, who laid down the band’s funk on bass (Bass Player Magazine aptly nicknamed her “Lake Street Driver“) and who was a perfect foil to Price on harmony vocals.
Which is why I’m thrilled as all get-out that Bridget Kearney has stepped up to the plate as a solo artist in her own rate, with a fabulous new solo album called “Won’t Let You Down,” which she’ll be bringing to Club Helsinki Hudson on Saturday, April 22, at 9pm.
“Won’t Let You Down” is a wry, big-hearted pop album, a gleeful work of melodic pop-rock with hints of the Beatles, Wilco, Fleetwood Mac, and even Nick Cave, as the album swerves from 1960s pop to modern indie-rock.
Kearney grew up in Iowa City and went to college in Boston, where she double-majored in jazz bass at the New England Conservatory of Music and English at Tufts University. While still a student, she won the grand prize in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, a harbinger of things to come. It was during this time, too, that Kearney and three of her fellow conservatory students founded Lake Street Dive. But Kearney has always been voraciously collaborative, dabbling in chamber pop with the Brooklyn group Cuddle Magic, bluegrass with the now-defunct Boston outfit Joy Kills Sorrow, and Ghanaian music as part of a duo with fellow songwriter Benjamin Lazar Davis.
The recording process for “Won’t Let You Down” began when drummer/engineer/producer Robin MacMillan invited Kearney to record a few songs at his Brooklyn studio. The sessions, which took place over the course of three years, were leisurely and experimental, free of a label-imposed deadline or a rental fee. “The answer to everything was ‘Yes. Let’s try it,’” Kearney remembers.
“The album abounds with peculiar noises: an unidentifiable yelp, something distinctly kazoo-like, the distant whistle of a steaming kettle,” says Kearney, who played electric bass, piano, synthesizers, organ, electric guitar and acoustic guitar on “Won’t Let You Down.”
“Won’t Let You Down” is the first project in which Kearney has appeared as the primary vocalist. “I’ve always had this affinity for singers and songs that are kind of vulnerable-sounding and flawed,” she says. “I’m not a trained singer or a really powerful singer, so that’s something that you can kind of use as an advantage in your writing. You can say some things that are vulnerable and personal, and I think it can come across more powerfully with a voice that’s imperfect.”
Kearney’s lyrical talent stems from her ability to unlock the profundity in details both small and strange. She jokingly describes the song “Daniel” as being “about when you have a sexy dream about someone, and how weird that is.” But in Kearney’s hands the concept transforms into something at once aching and exquisite, an earnest pop concoction with a conflicted soul.
Tasked with naming her favorite song, Kearney chooses “Wash Up“, a dreamy soft rock jam about running into an old lover. “It’s one of my favorite kinds of songs,” she says. “These crying on-the-dance-floor kinds of things, where the track is kind of bumpin’, but when you listen to the lyrics you realize it’s actually a sad song.” “Wash Up” is classic Kearney: a light touch undergirded by dark self-awareness, and endlessly hummable. It also showcases Kearney’s considerable talents as a guitarist. Is there anything this musician can’t play?
On “Won’t Let You Down“, buoyancy is always tempered by melancholy. But just as often, wistfulness is undercut by a twinkle in the eye. It’s “this cross section of sadness and humor,” says Kearney. “When you’re getting over crying, and you just start to laugh.”
The New Yorker got up close and personal with Kearney and Price in the Russian & Turkish Baths last year (I like to think of it as “Lake Street Shvitz“). In the blog The Perfect Note, Kearney reveals how she thinks of herself as a Charles Mingus-influenced bluegrass bassist. And Kearney played lead in a Rolling Stone interview about Lake Street Dive last year.
Warning: If you listen to “Won’t Let You Down,” it won’t let you down. In fact, it’s bound to be one of your favorite and most-played albums of the year.
Remember – for reservations in The Restaurant or in the club call 518.828.4800. To purchase tickets online go here. For the most up-to-date concert information, always visit Club Helsinki Hudson.
Henry Helsinki Hudson
Club Helsinki Hudson
405 Columbia St.