Any critic who’s been reviewing for a while will tell you this: how the album art looks belies how the album will sound, 99 times out of a hundred. If the album art is kitschy, it’s a safe bet the music is too. If the art’s juvenile, safe bet the musicians have that going on in their tunes. If the album art blows you away with its clarity and complexity, there’s a good chance the music within will be as detailed and complex.
Frank Jurgens’ Last Call at the Tiki Bar has cover art that is brightly colored, comic and altogether sun-soaked. There doesn’t seem to be any hope of indie cred contained within it. Seeing as I love indie rock, I put this at the back of the review stack and let it languish. I’m just not really the Ben Harper type, you know?
I stand corrected. I finally popped Last Call at the Tiki Bar in my player, and I was astonished. This album is well-crafted, well-recorded, and (most surprisingly) downright fun. This is Bermuda bar music, and it’s awesome. The piano playing here seems to have been yanked straight out of New Orleans and transplanted onto a beach somewhere, and the backing band only helps the comparison. Jurgens’ voice is the icing on the cake: it’s smooth, seductive and fits the sound perfectly. There is no indie cred here whatsoever, but this is a pretty fantastic bar band that doesn’t need indie cred.
Opener “I Ain’t Proud About It Baby” is an upbeat tune that features a walking bass line, a jubilant horn section and a ’50s style vocal backing band. If the street smart cool of ’50s rock’n’roll landed in the Bahamas, Frank Jurgens is what would happen. Case in point: a rollicking piano solo leads directly into an awesome guitar solo, the likes of which I haven’t heard in years. This is jubilant, celebratory music, and it took me completely by surprise. I love this band, and I completely didn’t see it coming.
There are a few missteps. The sentimentality of “With You, With Me” doesn’t fit the mood of the album and feel kitschy. Still not as bad as other unfortunate love songs I’ve heard, but it’s definitely not as fun and cool as “You’ll Be a Good Song Someday” or “Date Night, the Game.” Both of those tunes capture the fun-loving spirit that comes through most often. I mean, when a guy can offhandedly toss off a line like “help me out, boys” and then have a killer horn section come in, you know he’s doing something right.
Frank Jurgens’ Last Call at the Tiki Bar is unexpectedly awesome. From a genre that lends itself to rampant kitschiness, Jurgens is a breath of unabashedly awesome fresh air. The songs are tight, well-constructed, clever and fun. The horns blow the doors off the joint, but they were already rocking back forth from the rollicking piano work. This album is legit, and I am sad that I didn’t listen to it before now. Get this album.