Get out your poodle skirts and let's schwing, baby. The Austin, Texas-based quintet 8 1/2 Souvenirs is breaking out their groovy new CD, Twisted Desire. The band's sound has been called sophisticated, bohemian, cool, decidedly quirky, France-meets-Austin, cosmopolitan pop, swing-influenced rockabilly Texarkana, and that just about describes 8 1/2's infectious collection of tunes. I think guitarist/vocalist (and French expatriate) Olivier Giraud hit the nail on the head when he said, "Our music makes you feel as if you're in a room surrounded by aged wood and there's a pot of thick soup on the stove." In addition to Giraud's talents, the band also benefits from sultry 21-year-old chanteuse Chrysta Bell, who has been known to sashay onstage wearing glitter lipstick, shiny lizard-print pants, and a corset. The cosmopolitan aspect of its music stems from the influence of three-fingered Parisian-gypsy jazz great, Django Reinhardt, (whom the band covered extensively on their first CD Happy Feet), as well as its blending of French, Italian, Spanish, and English lyrics -- mostly about amour, but of course.
Nine of the twelve songs on Twisted Desire are originals, but I must admit I favor the covers. The first track is a jazzy version of ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" with the catchy refrain: "Every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man" (ain't that the truth). Some big-band brass, a driving bass line, tight guitar and piano licks, and of course Ms. Bell's oh-so-sexy lyrics, make this rendition even better than the original. Several tunes, such as "L'amour Toujours" and Paolo Conte's "Dancin'," can be described as a mixture of "surf punk enters French café." They certainly make me want to order a Campari, paint my lips and nails bright red, and grip one of those stylish '20s-era cigarette holders. I also adore the waltzy "Lonely in Love," originally recorded by Lyle Lovett, where Chrysta's voice is deliciously moody and a lonesome fiddle leads us down the road of sorrow. The Latinesque "Rhythm Is Magic" is nicely upbeat with undertones of an acoustic Gloria Estefan (thankfully, sans drum machine). It's a joy following 8 1/2 Souvenirs through its many musical excursions on this CD. The band oozes charisma, so much so that I can only imagine how entertaining they must be live. -- Heidi Dierssen
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