Dear Trouble

Big Lazy

Checkered Past Records, 2019

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


You know that unsettling dream you had the other night? The one where you couldn’t find that thing you really needed, or someone you loved acted like they didn’t know you, or you were being followed down a dark alley and your legs suddenly felt like jello? Big Lazy just delivered the soundtrack that goes with it.

The Manhattan-based instrumental trio, purveyors of capital-c cinematic “noir and twang” (as they’ve coined it) is back for another round with Dear Trouble, their sixth studio album. As always, Big Lazy—guitarist/composer Stephen Ulrich (also the composer for the HBO series Bored to Death) with Yuval Lion on drums and skittery percussion and Andrew Hall on eerie acoustic bass—dives deeply into every corner of the American songbook, twisting familiar elements of blues, jazz, rockabilly and surf into beguiling new shapes.

Big Lazy’s musical persona is all about atmosphere. Some tracks meander or digress, while others feature more focused structures, but each conveys a distinct mood and is decorated with moments that prod the imagination to craft a story around them. And throughout, they are both consistently tasteful and tastefully consistent.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

A few words about a few of these wordless tunes. Opener “The Onliest” sets the bar high as a Ulrich leads the group through a repeating blues riff that’s been warped into something decidedly spooky, featuring a hitch in the melody that throws everything slightly off beat even as the trio builds toward a fiery outro jam. The subsequent title track lopes along, brightly chiming chords floating above a ponderous rhythm section.

It takes a special set of skills to craft a tune that’s both creepy and playful, but “Ramona” delivers, featuring a rhythm chart that’s herky-jerky enough to suggest the Frankenstein monster, even as the farfisa organ by guest Marlysse Rose Simmons pushes the graveyard-smash atmosphere right over the top.

In a similar vein, “Sizzle & Pops” is downright jaunty in places, with sharp picking from Ulrich on the solo, but there’s something off-kilter in the gearbox of this rhythm & blues jam; the main riff is a dense, knotty one and the song periodically falls apart and reassembles on a dime. An imaginative, disconcerting cover of the Beatles’ “Girl” follows, slowing the song down to a half-speed shuffle as guest Steven Bernstein’s trumpet essays the vocal melody.

Here and there hints of Spanish or classical flourishes emerge in Ulrich’s fluid runs, but numbers like “Cheap Crude” are more typical in the way they play against expectations, taking a steady-on rockabilly riff and shifting a note here, a chord there off of what you might have anticipated. The end result could have served as the soundtrack for a Halloween episode of Happy Days.

“Exit Tuscon” features a buoyant boss nova rhythm matched with eerie, echo-drenched chords, inspiring visions of an elegant decay that’s more cemetery-after-midnight than Venice. That said, it’s a standout number, engrossing and genuinely cinematic. “Fly Paper” again feels like every chord and note is just right, yet there’s something off kilter too. How can both be true at once? That’s the mystery and intrigue of Big Lazy. There’s some kind of magic happening here—dark magic, to be sure.

This album—whose title nails its sometimes contradictory vibe—also features appearances by guests Marc Ribot (guitar), and Peter Hess (sax, clarinet, flute), and was co-produced by Ulrich and Dan Shatsky. Haunting in the best sense of the word, Dear Trouble finds Big Lazy scoring your nightmares as only they can, laying down an elegant, evocative sound that’s bound to keep your toes tapping and your nerves jangling.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2019 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Checkered Past Records, and is used for informational purposes only.