Two Shoes, the second studio album from Melbourne, Australia's Cat Empire, was cut at the legendary Egrem Studio in Havava, Cuba -- the site of landmark recordings by the Buena Vista Social Club and countless other Cuban artists -- in just under a month in late 2004. Like their self-titled studio debut, Two Shoes was a massive success in the sextet's homeland, debuting at number one, and its word-of-mouth stoked an already expanding fan base in Europe and North America -- enough of one to nab the band a booking at Tennessee's prestigious Bonnaroo music festival in 2006 -- despite the lack of an American release. The fuss was justified: the Cat Empire is a wholly engaging, genre-splicing band that exudes equal parts musical intelligence and no-frills party-down exuberance. The Cuban influence is never far from the surface on Two Shoes, but neither is it the point of the Havana excursion. Primarily, the Latin brass blasts and percussion serve to accent rather than define the direction, and the well-crafted jazz piano runs that light up tracks such as "Sol y Sombra" come not from one of the Cuban guest musicians but from one of the band's founders, Oliver McGill. All of this talk of jazz and Cuba should not leave the impression that Two Shoes is an overly serious record, however. While a considerable percentage of the material, provided primarily by another co-founder, vocalist/percussionist Felix Riebl, as well as trumpeter Harry James Angus, ponders lofty thematic issues, much of it is whimsical: this is, after all, a group proud to include the lyric "Some nights I go to bed, there's a ghost in the air above my head and I tremble/Sometimes I eat KFC, other times I give up meat and I just eat lentils" into a song ("Protons, Neutrons, Electrons"). Skipping merrily from alt-rock crunch to hip-hop beats, landing on reggae/ska, Latin jazz, and points in between, Two Shoes is clever and brainy, danceable and absorbing. As for the "Special Edition" part of the title, that's where things get a little confusing. From the looks of it, a couple of tracks from the original Aussie release were dropped from this Canadian edition, but six tracks from the debut album were appended to it. The entire second disc is a DVD, consisting of a live show (love the French-language cover of the Eagles' "Hotel California") and four music videos.
AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin