Dusty Springfield is available at:
Released: May, 2015
Los Angeles, U.S.A.
By Charlotte & Hank Fontaine
Mike Coleman, Jason DeMayo, and Scott Zimmerman
TODAY provides one of my most interesting reviews…
in recent months. Not perhaps because of the music- although that does intrigue and fascinate- but the act’s make-up and componence. I have a lot of points to raise, but for now, I am drawn back to the U.S.- and Los Angeles in particular. My last few U.S.-based reviews have taken in the likes of Brooklyn and Rochester; I have seen a bit of L.A. - my featured artists are a stand-out duo; you would be hard-pressed to find comparisons- they are certainly distinct from the crowd. The Los Angeles music scene seems to be standing toe-to-toe with New York: that West-East divide is leading to some great competition; to my mind, L.A. is edging it slightly. Whereas New York has some fantastic bands- great Rock and Indie folks- and terrific solo acts, L.A. has that edge of diversity- that goes beyond expectation and offers something genuinely fascinating. Away from Burbank, Pasadena and its environs, L.A. seems to be the hotbed (of Californian music). London- and areas of the U.K.- offer different/distinct acts like ISSIMO (a review favourite of mind); we have old-style Electro.-Pop fusions; some ‘30s/’40s Soul music- finding some U.S. comparisons is always pleasing. I love the more ‘traditional’ musicians- and the genres we all know and love- but when you dig deeper; find something that dares to do its own thing- THAT is when you get the biggest surprises. Before I introduce The Fontaines, I am urged to mention a couple of points: music diversity in the U.S.; the brother-sister duos (and their rarity). In the United States, a lot of great acts are coming through: being in the U.K., coming across them can be hard- often you stumble upon them on social media. It is hard promoting all great U.S. music (in addition to our own) but the best tend to make their voices heard. There is a lot of activity happening across all 50 states: Washington, Florida and Tennessee have their own scene and artists; the west and east tend to differs slightly- the big competition (and epicenters of fascination) is in California and New York. It is hard to label a particular sound (to each state) because they are both so mobile and different- it seems most genres are catered for; a huge amount of wealth and quality can be found. After trips to Mrs. Skannotto and The Falling Birds- two great New York bands; via the lovely Melinda Ortner- I am not back in California: assessing one of the state’s most special and original acts. I am not surprised The Fontaines have come about: I know Los Angeles has a thriving music scene; a community that supports new musicians- a place where terrific sounds is being born. Among the bands, duos (and solo artists) it is rare to find a brother-sister combo. Aside from the likes of The White Stripes- husband-and-wife-pretending-to-be-brother-and-sister- it is a rarity to see. From The Breeders and First Aid Kit; along to Radiohead and AC/DC: some great acts have consisted of siblings. When it comes to the sibling duos, there are not many that come to mind. I have reviewed a lot of duos that consists boyfriend-and-girlfriend- from Gypsyfingers through to Greenwood and Conder- so The Fontaines really appealed to me. When reviewing duos (that consisted partners) the music always seemed that much stronger- compared with duos that were friends/colleagues- and always more together. Perhaps it is that special bond- whether it is sexual or familial- but some tremendous music is produced. Duos (that are partners) write about love and relations: being in happy (you’d assume) relations, the music always sounds care-free and upbeat- even at their most downbeat, there is still that air of electricity and togetherness. Apply that to the brother-sister parable; the closeness and familiarity translates into music: siblings have that special bond and understanding; an intuition and shared connection- it would be good to see more sibling duos come through. The Fontaines are causing quite a stir: one of the Unites States’ best new duos, their style is striking and vintage; harmonious and beautiful- everything you could want from music. Before I touch on their music (some more), let’s introduce the duo to you:
“Charlotte (20) and Hank (25) Fontaine are a brother-sister duo currently living in Los Angeles. After growing up all over the world together they decided to start writing together in 2013 after discovering the open mics, house shows, and cabaret nights of Southern California. The Fontaines currently perform across the country both as a duo and backed by bands ranging in size and instrumentation. Visit thatfontainesound.com for more information about upcoming shows and releases.”
Shying away from the avenues of Rock and Pop; distance from Electro. music and Folk: the duo reinvent Doo-Wop sounds; inject some modern relevance; add incredible vocals- scoring some scenic and vivid songs. Dubbing their music ‘Nu-Wop’, the California twosome has taken a bygone style of music- added their personalities and takes on it- and come up with something fresh and vibrant. Placed somewhere between Pop and Electro.-Pop (with some Folk edges), the genre is under-performed; the duo have done something fascinating- updated Doo-Wop sounds and given it a new lease of life. Some might sneer and say it is not a cool idea: Doo-Wop sounds died out; how can you make them fashionable? Well, to the naysayers, I would say this: take a listen to the music; that splice of innocence-cum-edgy stylisations; the gorgeous voices and evocative lyrics- how could you possible fault that? Too many people judge sight-unseen; assume music will be terrible: a few seconds in The Fontaines’ company and any reticence is instantly dispelled. Not since my investigation of Gypsyfingers have I witnessed a duo so in-tune and close; their voices and parts seamless and natural- their music incredible.
Being a new duo out of the blocks; The Fontaines is the only example we have of the guys- their debut E.P. is their first real step; they are a two-piece with a lot (more to) say. A lot of acts- when they come fresh onto the scene- sound nervous and uncertain (in their initial recordings) - no such issue here. Fully-formed and completely authoritative, the duo’s E.P. is rife with terrific moments, plenty of nuance and wonderful economy- there are not too many tracks; they do not last too long; you are left wanting a little bit more (in a good way). The best thing about the E.P. is the song titles- the quintet of tracks are named after various Hollywood (and music) legends. From Dusty Springfiield and Charlotte Fontaine- two fine ladies of music- we have Dustin Hoffman and Paul Newman; plus Australian legend Cate Blanchett. It is unique and charming take: rather than give generic and boring tiles, each song instantly draws imagery- mini-dramas that seem like films in themselves; the songs evoke sides (of their subject). The entire E.P. is consistent and engaging; each track has its own skin and sound- without losing identity and its focus. The vocal harmonies elevate the music; the compositions are sparse yet emotional- the lyrics fill the imagination; allow the listener to conspire and wonder. Both dreamy and modern-sounding- embers of modern-day duos come to mind- there is that older-day whisper; the entire E.P. is a stunning achievement.
The duo themselves have a range of influences- Sam Cooke, The Beach Boys, The Drifters, Patsy Cline; Brenda Lee, Peggy Lee, Elvis Presley, Jeff Buckley and Lesley Gore- with a little of each represented. Perhaps The Drifters and Patsy Cline are the most obvious influences: the former and their style of music; Charlotte Fontaine’s Cline-esque vocals. To be fair, the two-piece only employ the merest of hints (of others): their own brand and sense of focus comes out. I would first of all suggest you investigate the band with fresh ears: dive into their music and have an open (and empty) mind. From there, have a look back: take in some (older) Doo-Wop sounds; investigate some Beach Boys and Patsy Cline; Sam Cooke and Jeff Buckley- the artists that have compelled (the duo). Only then will you get a full understanding of their music and agenda- plus, it is a great way to discover some terrific music (you may have forgotten about). The Fontaines is the sound of a young act with confidence and intention: I can see future releases showcasing this bold and urgent approach; building off their initial promise- and adding something new into the mix. Across the five track, the brother-and-sister combination channel the legends of old; offer some incredible fresh music- the E.P. never loses its sense of emotion, focus and consistency- and wrap it around intrigue and mystery; beauty and soul- the complete package.
The initial moments of Dusty Springfield are teasing and relaxed: a guitar-strummed tranquility that eases the senses; begins the track with a calming refrain- gently beckoning the vocal in. When our heroine arrives at the microphone, initial impressions are quite stirring. “Maps run cross my cheek/Lilac blush don’t look at me…” get you thinking and theorising. The vocals begin with a sexiness and breathiness: fairly low-pitched and husky, there is an edge of ‘60s Soul and Pop; something quite classic and emotive. Fontaine herself showcases herself (in the early seconds) to be a talented and emotive singer: never over-singing or emoting too strong, she keeps her voice passionate and resolved; showcasing a slight edge of vulnerability. The initial lyrics- and rest of the first verse- look at a relationship dilemma: perhaps love has hit the rocks; bonds are growing tired- and there is a need to rekindle the romance. Maybe her sweetheart has been ignorant and short-sighted: overlooked our heroine and broken her heart- there is a tangible sense of loss and strain. With Swing, Doo-Wop and Soul tones, the song notches up a gear; it kicks up and heightens- the energy levels rise and proceedings become faster and more electric. The line “you can’t do that, can you?” is a repeated mantra: a central accusation and slung criticism- her man is not prepared to talk things out; stay around and work things through. Whether casting herself in the guess of Dusty Springfield- and writing a song she would sing- or basing it around her own pain- that sense of authority and genuine hurt comes out. Although the lyrics look at loss and break-up, the composition has plenty of drive and uplift. With the percussion remaining determined and alert; the guitar twanging with pride and promise- the song never loses its potential and promise. The song has a great tightness and sense of economy. The verse and chorus are really the only lyrics: there are a few other lines, yet for the most part, there is that singular verse and chorus. After the questioning and dissatisfaction; that loss of incentive and confusion, the chorus comes back into the mix- the track swings between tender and investigative to full-bodied and spirited. Our heroine does not want to “pray out loud”; she does not want to (have her man) hear her words- there is that need to keep her true feelings inside. There is clearly a sense of resentment and anger: it is wrapped around effusive and glistening swagger; that endless energy and fizz. The duo do not merely keep the pace/composition basic and predictable; the vocals do not comes across as lazy at all- there is always one eye on projection and mood. For instance, when the line “So don’t tell him, I don’t want to pray out loud…” the song halt slightly; the words are projected with punch and pace- catching the listener by surprise and showing another dimension. It is at this stage you get the truest incarnation of Doo-Wop (or Nu-Wop) and Rhythm-and-Blues. Although the entire song has a modern and contemporary sound, those vintage/retro elements make it such a diamond- never insincere or faux; the genres are treated with huge affection and respect. Charlotte Fontaine’s lead vocal is consistently engaging and determined; completely committed and authoritative- you buy into every word she says. The song keeps peeling mystery-skin reveals and ideals: as the moments tick by, your mind is caught in two different plains. On the one front, I see her man leaving her; disappointing our heroine and there being a need for reconciliation. A new take (on an old idea) you are sucked into that relationship quagmire- wondering just how it will work out. On the other hand, maybe the words are fictitious to an extent: maybe the Fontaines are writing a song for Dusty Springfield; casting themselves in her guise. That interpretation becomes a little far-fetched; that sense of mystique and open-for-interpretation aspect. As you unpick and decipher the lyrics- trying to reveal their true understanding- that composition keeps coming to seduce. Surf-Rock guitars hurry and race; the percussion keeps the emotions in check. Consistently surprising and busy, it is a terrific counterpart: it perfectly augments the lyrics and whips-up its own sense of drama and life. By the final moments, the images and sense of evocation builds: it is a filmic song that projects scenes and sights; the lovers and their scenario- their fate and fall-out. At its heart, Dusty Springfield has a wounded heart: our heroine wants things to be better; her beau to stay for her- knowing he never will. Never wracked and overwrought, the vocal performance keeps light and impassioned. As the final seconds arrive, you wish the song could go on: perhaps reveal new truths and twists; answer questions and cliff-hangers- whether things will be resolve at all.
Plaudits must be paid to the song’s addition musicians and support. With Mike Coleman, Jason DeMayo and Scott Zimmerman on board, they add weight and colour to the track. The percussion is hissing and perky; rushing and mood-setting: it makes sure Dusty Springfield remains essential and urgent. The guitar work is consistently engaging and fascinating: switching between Surf-Rock and Soul; Doo-Wop and Rhythm-and-Blues so many styles and moods are introduced- Hank Fontaine adding a lot of twists and turns to the story. The interplay between the siblings is incredible and sharp: at no point does either lose step or time; they back one another up and show how tight-knit there. It is that central vocal that perhaps stands out strongest: going from tender and insistent to determined and bruised, there are so many emotional aspects to it. At its heart, the song benefits from committed and impassioned performances: everyone involved gives the song their utmost attention and consideration; what you get is a track that keeps revealing new insight and sides- not many songs can boast that. For those wary of revitalising older genres- and giving a lick of paint to older sounds- there is nothing to be scared of. Doo-Wop suggestions are kept both true and new: the core of the genre remains intact; the duo simply modernise it and bring it into 2015. With my other review subjects (that tackle Electro.-Swing and Doo-Wop) they always bring it into the 21st century: make sure they do not betray its roots; yet make it accessible for the new generation. The Fontaines are a duo with one foot in the past; one in the present-day: that not only adds weight and quality to their work; it ensures their songs are deeper and more nuanced- not one-dimensional and predictable (as a lot of modern sounds can be). Dusty Springfield is a song that may take a few listens (to reveal its true firepower) but therein lies the beauty: once it does blossom and spread its wings, the effect is quite wonderful. A track that suits the broken-hearted poets and moonlit-wandering; ideal for the dusty summer highways- it is an agile and adaptable number. The stand-out from their debut E.P., it not only stands on its own merits: it provides a glimpse into their next E.P.; just what we could all see- and just how good it can really be.
It is hard to miss California’s The Fontaines: one of the most stand-out acts coming out of the U.S. Whilst the music scene is filled with predictable bands- duos that do not stick in the mind; solo artists with nothing to say- these two exceed expectations; take the listener by surprise- seduce them with their entrancing music. Even their fashion/style catches the eye: the black-and-white clothing- both retro and cutting-edge- reminds me of The White Stripes (they were red, black and white). With our heroine being gorgeous and elegant; our hero dashing and handsome, the two-piece stick in the mind. Were they just gimmicks and imagery, then they would fade in the imagination: as it stands, their music and promise are other sides; their chemistry and bond another- they have so many layers and sides. Having assessed Dusty Springfield, I was reminded of the English legend: that elegant swoon; the classy and classic sides; the mesmeric vocals- seamlessly mastery of Pop and Soul standards. The song itself portrays all these facets; it has a modernity and vibrancy- a track that demands repeated player and deeper critique. I know a lot of U.S. acts are coming to the U.K.: there is a financial stress for sure but it is great to see American artists come to our shores. I hope The Fontaines visit the U.K.; take in Europe too- there is a huge market for them. Countries like France and Germany would take to their style; we in the U.K. have similar acts and would love to see them here. London is promoting some up-and-coming Electro.-Swing acts; Yorkshire and the north is too- The Fontaines would nestle into the fold; gain an audience for sure. Before I end up, I want to circle back to my original thesis: pertaining to U.S. music and sibling duos. Maybe New York is providing some of the best Rock and Indie sounds- they take the lead when it comes to hotter and harder sounds- yet L.A. (and California) exceeds in other areas. When considering diverse genres- Eletcro. and Folk; Soul and Pop- California is producing more gems; their artists are more daring and innovative- that is my perception at least. One of the best aspects of British music is our range (of underground and niche) styles of music; the wonderful hidden treasures we have- that is the case with the U.S.A. too. The Fontaines are making waves in their native land; they are starting to gather a lot of positivity and praise- I hope their music takes the U.S. by storm. In this country, they are a slight unknown quantity. That will change soon enough: it is impossible to keep their music a secret. With a sound ready-made for Europe and Australia (yep; they would love it too). I can see their name gathering pace. Their social media numbers are climbing steadily; the reviews are coming in- let’s hope the brother-and-sister team keeps their charge going. Since the release of their self-titled E.P., the guys have been performing and planning: exciting times are ahead. Their next E.P. is all-but-done: it is being mastered and finalised; new songs are being premiered. Restless and ambitious, the duo is not letting the dust settle: capitalising on their current form, their new record should be something to behold- make sure you get a hold of it. With their heart and soul being in the ’30 and ‘40s (with some ‘50s in there too) their minds and bodies are very much in the present-day- the signs are all very promising. Do not let the L.A. wonders slip you by: check out their debut E.P.; let Dusty Springfield do her/its work- and prepare for what is to come. All that is left to say is be broad when it comes to music and bands: if you are used to four and five-piece acts; try investigating duos. When you stretch and broaden your tastes; dive into something a little bit different- that is when the real revelations arrive. With few brother-and-sister duos on the scene, The Fontaines may seem like an anachronism and oddity: the truth is they sound completely natural and stunning. Being close and committed, their clear affection comes out (in their music); their shared talents blend marvelously- the results are truly wonderful. As I play Dusty Springfield- for the 'nth' time now- I am compelled to dip into L.A. music; see if there are more Fontaines-esque acts- really broaden my horizons. When that happens- and an act connects that strongly- you become a more well-rounded music-lover. With that in mind…
HOW could you ask for anything more?
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