The past year has offered a world of change to the six members of Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles. Dropping the independently released Orange Peels and Rattlesnakes in the summer of 2008 only added to the budding attention that the band had already been attracting for its live performances around the Twin Cities. By the end of the year the group had received best local band honors in City Pages‘ annual Picked to Click poll and began expanding its roadshow while anticipation at home continued to build. Now releasing their second album, Special Party Time For Everybody, Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles not only buck the highly dreaded sophomore slump, but offer a change in direction that adds an entirely new dimension to the band’s already remarkable sound.
There is no easy way to describe the band. To those unfamiliar, it might best serve as an explanation to include generic terms such as “fun” or “lighthearted,” but with Party Time the band has stepped outside its traditional folkie constraints and sailed further into the seas of jazz and rich, sophisticated pop. This transition might be best represented by the album’s title track, where the band’s carefree harmonies and hand claps eventually blend with Michelle’s whistling and airy call and response. It’s a song that sounds so distant from the Velvet Lapelles of a year and a half ago that it hardly seems like it came from the same set of musicians.
“Magnolia Tree” follows in the vein of a Spanish waltz, if such a thing were to ever be created by a metropolitan band based in the Midwest. Later in the album “Ghost Town” arises as an unofficial second part to the album’s lead track “Mouth of the Beast,” both foot-stompers that take full advantage of the instruments used in each respective song. The smoky sax in “Goodnight” and the playful piano in “Treetop Lullaby” (one that parallels “Chopsticks”) act as additional examples of how the band has furthered its sound through a wide array of instruments throughout the album.
The greatest representation of the prowess that the band have gained since first finding their place within the Twin Cities is the album’s “Hotel.” The seven minute song overlays Michelle’s ukulele with Eamonn McLain’s cello, each given their respective moments to seek the spotlight before eventually fading in with the rest of the dramatic mixture of sounds. Later the song adds horns and piano, both of which echo over drummer Geoff Freeman before each eventually loses its individual nature and becomes a thread in the song’s beautiful musical tapestry. As a whole, it is the most impressive piece the band has put together to date.
Much of the evolution evinced on Party Time might stem from Michelle and guitarist Chris Graham, who were attended St. Paul’s Central High School together—they both played in the school’s jazz band—though it likely has more to do with the rapid maturation of the band as a whole. The contrast between the its two albums is striking, and suggestive of far more than simply time spent practicing or playing together. For lack of a better description, Party Time still reflects the “fun” and “lighthearted” sounds that have been present since the group’s inception. But the new album reflects something deeper; far from a leap into dangerous territory, it showcases a group of artists who have comfortably outgrown their musical wardrobe, now tailoring new remnants of inspiration to their already broken-in sound.
While retaining the essence of what originally landed them so much interest, Lucy Michelle and co. have seamlessly done in a short stretch of time what many bands fail to achieve during their entire careers. One can only imagine where they’ll be in another year.