The Bird, the Bee and the Ray Gun

It seems everywhere I look nowadays I’m noticing more and more about Inara George, daughter of the late great Lowell George, vocalist and slide guitarist extraordinaire of Little Feat.

Just last summer I read about her project with Van Dyke Parks, the nostalgic album An Invitation, which was released in August, and then another item about a one-off concert of the piece they performed in London in the fall.

With a little further investigation I found that before that project she was involved in a lot of varied endeavors, including a tribute concert for her father in which she sang Trouble to great acclaim, and her own solo album (All Rise, 2005). Add to that myriad projects over the years for the 34-year-old with various bands and musicians in L.A., including Lode (EP Legs & Arms, 1996) and Merrick, a duo with two albums that broke up in 2002.

ray-gun-frontSo, I was watching Leno the other night and who appears at the end of the show? The Bird and the Bee, which is Inara George’s group with Greg Kurstin, who writes all the music with her and plays most of the instruments on their two CDs. Their performance was not only quite good, it was almost surreal. You can see for yourself in the clip below of the band performing the same tune, My Love, at the Independent in San Francisco.

With Kurstin almost hidden behind an array of keyboards and a grand piano, George and a bevy of women backup singers looked like something out of Modesty Blaise wearing short go-go style dresses with splatches of bright color, very retro and stylish. The song, My Love, was a smooth mix of girl group pop, cool jazz and latin rhythms, which is how you can describe most the group’s new album Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future.

ray-gun-backThe Bird and the Bee bring a refreshing approach to what at first strikes you as a pure pop sound. But there’s more going on. Its foundation features sophisticated instrumentation and technique, impeccably arranged underneath George’s ethereal vocals, which float airily between hushed Brazilian cool and jazz-tinged soulfulness. The writing accents beautiful melodies backed with sun-drenched harmonies and smart, somewhat elusive lyrics.

Diamond Dave blends high-pitched organ pecks over a light shuffle beat, then melodically breaks into a jazz structure and finally a pop hook, all sung quite capably by George. What’s In The Middle moves to a funky straight-ahead rock beat with techno touches, while the title track glides over a moderate groove underpinned with jazz chords and vocal stylings.

Other highlights include Meteor, another shuffle, the low-key Baby and Polite Dance Song with its almost second-line News Orleans feel in the verse opening into a big Beatleish payoff in the chorus. An unusually droll video for Dance Song is available on youtube.

The haunting Witch, sprightly pop Birthday and reflective Lifespan Of A Fly finish the album, which by its end reinforces Kurstin and George’s songwriting skill, instrumental prowess and pleasing and proficient vocal arrangements.

A nice surprise for 2009 by a couple of L.A. vets just starting to attract a wider audience.

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