Smoke and Mirrors 

Left Hand Smoke reflect the best of some classic tunes

“Hey, you kids! Get out of that musty LP collection!”

That’s what I wanted to yell.

Look at them. Doubt if there’s a one of ‘em old enough to rent a car. Now listen to them. They sound like a combination of the Allman Brothers and Marvin Gaye with a little Black Crowes swagger sprinkled on top. It’s a little too eerie, somehow.

When I say Left Hand Smoke recall the Allman Brothers, I don’t mean kind of recall the Allman Brothers. There’s a song on the band’s self-titled debut CD that, when it’s really cranking, sounds like someone stripped away the melodic guitar line from “Jessica,” replaced it with vocals, and threw in a slow-down part to claim the number—just barely—as an original.

Another thing Left Hand Smoke have in common with the Allmans is a tendency to write songs that go on just a bit too long. Or maybe just too long to be appreciated on CD. Some of the arrangements spell “rock me all night,” and considering the time slippage factor when you’re really getting eyes-shut into a live show, the ones that seem a little prolix in living room probably seem to end a couple hours too soon live. There’s nothing to compare with “Mountain Jam” of the Allmans, which according to official sources on occasion took up to three days, or the entire duration of an outdoor rock festival, to perform in its entirety. But you still hear it: just a few too many blandly repeated choruses to escape comparison.

Clever riffs and insidiously cool basslines lurk at every turn in this Seattle quartet’s music, and most of them sound suspiciously familiar. At first listen, it seems as though the particular genius of Left Hand Smoke isn’t for expanding the horizons of this particular genre, but for distilling, recombining and studiously codifying the little signatures that made the Allmans so great to begin with into a sound that could legally be described as original. Resurrectionist in a very innocent way, certainly fresh and exciting coming from such a precocious young band, but not exactly what you’d call groundbreaking.

Marvin Gaye, on the other hand, is a less obtrusive presence here. His influence is also strongly felt, but more in the subtle colors of the connective tissue between the vocals and the instruments. In any case, the farther along you get into Left Hand Smoke, the more the familiar elements come together in interesting new ways. The lyrics, as you probably surmised, aren’t the stuff of Nobel Prizes for literature, but there are a few astute observations here and there, and the general unselfconsciousness of the vocal end of things is really what clinches it for Left Hand Smoke. It’s worth mentioning that Left Hand Smoke is over two years old, and it’s a safe bet that the band has grown by leaps and bounds in the interval. I’ve just got a feeling this is going to be a very fun show.
Get a lungful of Left Hand Smoke at the Ritz this Saturday at 10 p.m. Cover $2.

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