Steve Hochman's Picks
Django and Sam Stewart are brothers. Real brothers born to perform — their parents are Dave Stewarts of Eurythmics and Siobhan Fahey of Bananarama. Together, Django the singer and Sam the guitarist, aged 26 and 23 respectively, front the Los Angeles-based band Nightmare & the Cat, with the debut album "Simple" just released.
They cite Jeff Buckley and the Pixies as prime role models, with Queens of the Stone Age among more recent favorites, and you can hear some of that in the title song and elsewhere. The real key, though, is their mutual love for David Bowie. That’s more prominent live than on this album, where the combination of catchy melodies, guitar crunch, pounding beats and an exuberant presence carry the joyous, aspirational spirit of early Bowie and his glam compatriots — T. Rex some, Mott the Hoople a bit. Django, the singer and frontman, is gifted with the natural charisma needed to pull that off.
In such highlights as the smittenly churning “Sarah Beth,” that’s mixed with the pop sense of glam’s ‘80s descendants, no surprise given their parents’ place in that decade’s music. Dad Dave, in particular, still stands as architect of some of the most distinctive, ambitious hits of the era. Nightmare & the Cat doesn’t quite have that multi-dimensional dynamic. Yet. But the promise is there.
They do have another dynamic at work, thanks to a friendship with L.A. artist Gary Baseman, creator of a world of mythically innocent creatures facing a dark world with a light spirit. Baseman’s created the band’s visuals including the album art and a mascot’s cat-head playing off the name (which came from a song by an obscure artist the brothers like). And at the Roxy concert celebrating the album’s release, Baseman worked on a big canvas on stage as the band played, painting — and dancing — as moved by the sounds.
Artist: The Psycho Sisters
Album: Up On the Chair, Beatrice
Songs: “Never Never Boys,” “Wish You”
First, to be clear about the name: The Psycho Sisters are not really sisters. They’re sisters-in-law. Though they weren’t when they started singing together a good 25 years ago. Susan Cowsill (yes, of those Cowsills — she was the moppet who interjected “and spaghettied!” in the hit version of “Hair”) didn’t have sisters. Rather she gained childhood fame alongside her brothers and their mom in the group on which the Partridge Family was modeled.
She and Vicki Peterson (who is in a band with her real sister Debbi — you know, the Bangles) hit it off around the L.A. scene, then together joined the band the Continental Drifters and, moving with the group to New Orleans, kept developing their own side-project duo. It didn’t hurt that along the way Vicki married one of those Cowsill brothers, John. But for a variety of reasons, it took this long for the two women to make a Psycho Sisters album.
It was, as they say, well worth the wait. The mix of power-pop, Americana and a fine sense of character-driven storytelling in the words — something Cowsill has developed in her own solo career — carries the bubbly vigor associated with each of their “name” acts, but deepened by mature confidence. The former tone is strong in “Never Never Boys” (co-written by Peterson and Bob Cowsill) and the Psycho’s co-write “Fun to Lie,” the closest this gets to sounding Bangles-y (Bangles-ish?).
The latter aspect is as much about the performance as anything — the songs here go back the duo’s original repertoire of more than 20 years ago. But the recordings are new, and it’s hard not to hear some of what’s happened in those intervening years in the tracks.
Each has suffered since they started this, including three of Cowsill’s brothers, one dying in Hurricane Katrina, another passing away from cancer just a few weeks ago, and that seems present in the big, bold “Wish You,” Peterson leading the way in a compelling lament of separation. And tying it all together, there’s a bittersweet coda of “Cuddly Toy,” the Harry Nillson-penned popper that was a hit for the Monkees, as sung by Davy Jones, a childhood crush of Cowsill’s who died shortly after work on this album started.
Throughout, it’s perky guitar-pop, with some fine drumming by both of the principals’ husbands — John Cowsill and Russ Broussard. But the instrumental MVPs may be brothers Sam and Jack Craft, regulars in Cowsill’s band, whose violin and cello, respectively, bring multiple colors to the tracks, not least the powerful “Numb.”
The main attraction, though, is the leaders’ harmonies, dancing around and with each other to great delight. Yeah, they do sound like sisters! Psycho? Well…. that’s for others to determine.
The Psycho Sisters will play McCabe’s in Santa Monica on Aug. 2.
Justino Aguila's Picks
Chiquis Rivera recently debuted her single “Esa No Soy Yo” on national television. It was a moment that many Latinos across the country wanted to see as the daughter of the late regional Mexican singer Jenni Rivera showed what she could do on stage.
The debut of the song she co-wrote was well-received. Undoubtedly, it will continue to receive comparisons to Rivera’s mother who in a 20-year arc succeeded in the genre and was crowned the Diva of Banda music.
While not everyone may be on board with Chiquis’ move into music, it should be noted that she’s working hard behind the scenes in a career that's included reality shows, a web series and other projects.
Rivera will have to prove (mostly to herself) that she has what it takes to make music by creating her own path. In the current single “Esa No Soy Yo” she takes on a vocally challenging song and delivers it swiftly and with a cool edge. The song, and the video, ultimately empower women.
“Paloma Blanca,” which was released earlier this year, was Rivera’s first single and while there was a lot of reaction to the song, it launched the start of Rivera's move into music. We are likely to see more in a full-length album later this year.
Grammy-winning band Quetzal returns with their sixth album and this time they pay homage to animals in their new project Quetzanimales.
This year also marks the 20th anniversary for the band that has been influenced by music such as funk, rancheras, cumbias, son jarocho, salsa, R&B and folk, among other genres. A an eclectic mix of music and socially conscious lyrics puts Quetzal in a class all of their own.
In 2013, the band won the Grammy for Latin rock, urban or alternative album for their album Imaginaries (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) and it catapulted them into a bigger spotlight.
The members of Quetzal have made it their mission to use music to help build community and shed light on worthy causes. In the current album, the songs pay homage to animals such as roosters, ants, owls, geese, squirrels and dogs, among others. Each song, as a metaphor, captures the essence of those creatures in relationship to people and their urban surroundings.
Both “Perro Caliente” and “Tecolote” beautifully unfold and glow more with each verse and the rich harmonizing of singer/songwriter Martha González. The band also includes Quetzal Flores (guitar), Tylana Enomoto (violin), Juan Pérez (bass), Peter Jacobson (cello) and Alberto Lopez (percussion).
Former member Gabriel González, who has a thriving career in music as well, recently performed with Quetzal during the band’s 20th anniversary celebration as part of the Grand Performances organization’s annual gala and fundraiser in downtown Los Angeles. Next up, Quetzal performances throughout California and beyond.