Paul Heaton / Jacqui Abbott

Crooked Calypso

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Returning for a third dip into the well of smart pop, former Beautiful South members Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott offer Crooked Calypso, a robust marriage of plucky wit, confidence, and heart. Since rekindling their musical partnership in 2014, the two singers have turned out a distinctive brand of musical merrymaking that has resonated with U.K. audiences. There's something refreshingly organic about their big productions, which layer strings and horns over a whip-tight rock combo that sways nimbly between Motown, R&B, and old-fashioned rock & roll within the breadth of just a few notes. As ringleaders, Heaton and Abbott make a winning and surprisingly egoless duo swapping lyrics, harmonizing, and keeping their party buoyant with the effortless grace of lifelong entertainers. Approached with any less skill, the effect of songs like "I Gotta Praise" and "The Fat Man" would come off as uncouth or corny, but the two manage to walk a perfect line of tone that successfully delivers their often barbed witticisms while conveying an underlying sense that they're not only in on the joke, but are also at the butt of it. It's this crafty togetherness that has made their first two records chart successes and helps Crooked Calypso succeed on the same level. From the heartfelt Irish folk tribute "Blackwater Banks" to the unstoppably hooky "People Like Us," this is an engaging and fun listen that is easy to repeat again and again.

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