Kitty, Daisy & Lewis

Smoking in Heaven

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There's a lot to love about Kitty, Daisy & Lewis Durham, a trio of British youngsters (aged 18, 22, and 20, respectively, at the time of this recording) whose enthusiasm for the American roots music of the 1950s is undeniably sincere, impressively zealous, and absolutely infectious. It's easy to imagine a project like theirs smacking unbearably of gimmicky novelty, especially given the ambitious measures the Durham siblings undertake in the interest of authenticity -- including amassing enough vintage recording gear to build a complete home setup modeled after the Sun Records studio -- but these kids make it all feel breezily natural, and for them it really is: after all, they were raised on this stuff by their hipster music industry parents (mastering engineer Graeme Durham and Raincoats drummer Ingrid Weiss, who also sit in with the band on occasion.) While Smoking in Heaven, the group's second proper full-length, doesn't tamper with the charmingly loose, deliberately homespun energy of their 2009 debut, it does find them branching out in several ways: exploring bluebeat ska ("Tomorrow," "So Sorry") and coarse, strutting funk ("Don't Make a Fool out of Me") in addition to plenty of their usual jump-blues, R&B, and swingin' rockabilly (no Hawaiian jaunts this time, though); trying out some more ambitious (if not always wholly convincing) musicianship -- check the rough but still rollicking boogie-woogie piano solo that kicks off the instrumental "Paan Man Boogie" -- and, notably, penning all their own material for the first time. The writing is nothing earth-shattering; in fact, it's rudimentary and formulaic almost without exception, although they still come up with a couple of winners ("I'm Coming Home"), and lots of tunes that would easily pass for understandably forgotten oldies (not among them is "Messing with My Life," whose trebly, cod-funk guitar and atypically contemporary-sounding vocal stylings make it sound incongruously like an especially amateurish cover of a faceless, 2010s Top 40 R&B hit.) But as with their playing and singing (Lewis sometimes calls to mind a young, inelegant Eric Burdon -- an apt reminder of how much these guys have in common with Ameriphile '60s beat groups like the Animals and the Yardbirds), the sisters have a tendency to sound a bit congested, but their charm and passion take them a long way. That charm can run pretty thin, though, when it comes to extended "jams" like the seven-and-a-half-minute "What Quid," and harmonica-riddled, nine-minute title-track, neither of which offer nearly enough variation or interest to justify their length.

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