Band of Bees second album Free the Bees is a rollicking, breathtaking romp through the '60s, calling to mind classic band after classic band but also conjuring up a modern and original sound of their own. "These Are the Ghosts," the CD's opening track, gives us echoes of the psychedelic-era Small Faces, the Kinks circa Village Green Preservation Society, and even, at times, Pink Floyd circa Piper at the Gates of Dawn. There are moments on "No Atmosphere" where they sound like the Small Faces quoting the Beatles obliquely from Rubber Soul, and elsewhere it suddenly sounds as though the ghost of George Harrison has stepped into the studio to throw in some licks from a White Album jam. And incidentally, the studio in question where this album was cut was, indeed, EMI Studio No. 2, the very same that the Beatles used, so the Bees re-creating elements of the Beatles' sound is no accident. "Chicken Payback" sounds like some discovery from the vaults of Stax Records, except that it's not -- it's an original, and it is original, and could pass for some 40-year-old Northern soul discovery. "The Russian" comes off like a piece of soundtrack music in search of a movie, circa Blow-Up, like for a chiller (The Deadly Bees, perhaps?) or spy picture where the producers couldn't afford John Barry. And "I Love You" shows off a lyricism and elegance that recalls the soul and psychedelic heyday at EMI, all shimmering guitars, sweet understated harmonizing, and a horn section. "Hourglass" carries us into a rarefied trippy territory somewhere between Pink Floyd and the Small Faces, with an exquisitely memorable chorus accompanied by electric piano, organ, and drums, and some vaguely Byrds-ish guitar, and "Go Karts" recalls the Small Faces at their cheerful, Cockney-inflected best. And the album finisher, "This Is the Land," melds radiant choruses, a trippy melody, and little touches of guitar copped from Between the Buttons and keyboards off of the first two Floyd albums except it's all a lot more cheerful than Pink Floyd ever was. Free the Bees is all worth hearing, a lot more than once, and it could be the Album of the Year -- the only question is if that year is 2004 or 1968.
AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder