“Cold Chicago Morning” – Ralfe Band
Does the inexorable sound shift that’s been made right before our eyes and ears on the pop music front in the 2010s render music that feels more organic, hand-made, and melodically inclined entirely obsolete by this oh-so-futuristic year of 2014? On the one hand, rock’n’roll does seem really most sincerely dead in many different quarters here in the mid-’10s, replaced in the hearts and minds of today’s mainstream by sounds far more polished and formulaic and beat-driven. On the other hand, against all odds, plenty of organic, hand-made, and melodically inclined music is in fact still being created and recorded and not just by the oldsters of my generation but by good-hearted folks in their 20s and 30s as well.
A marvelous case in point is the off-kilter, Randy-Newman-meets-Tom-Waits jaunt of “Cold Chicago Morning,” from the British singer/songwriter/artist/filmmaker Oly Ralfe, who performs as Ralfe Band. The opposite of glossy and beat-driven, “Cold Chicago Morning” is launched by a clever, extended piano melody that mixes time signatures and advances unexpected chords even as it keeps your head bobbing nicely along. Ralfe sings with a smoother croon than his older progenitors, while still conveying a scuffed-up sensibility. Stick around (why wouldn’t you?) and see how the piano returns (first at 1:27) to deliver the song’s singular musical moment: an ear-catching line that ascends up a non-traditional scale only to tumble back, as if down a staircase. Calling upon neither gimmickry nor condescension, the music, while not necessarily Beatle-esque, is positively Beatle-like in its straightforward inventiveness.
“Cold Chicago Morning,” from the 2013 album Son Be Wise (Highline Records), was recently released as a single; my attention was drawn to it via the ever-excellent Lauren Laverne over on BBC Radio 6.