Great Sounds Great; Bad Sounds Bad: Sal Valentine and The Babyshakes ‘She Ain’t No Good’

Sal Valentine and The Babyshakes - photo by Alexander Mark Hoyles

Great Sounds Great; Bad Sounds Bad is a column which sees a panel of writers for The Corner review a range of local singles and grade them out of 10. Check out the song below, read through their opinions and let us know in the comments section your own thoughts and what you’d like to see reviewed next time around.

[Bandcamp]

[Grade: 5.9]

Michael Kerby: Whenever I hear stuff like this, I always wonder what their stance on the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies is. Are the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies the seminal rhythm ‘n blues swing revival band that paved the way and set the benchmarks and hammered in all the nails? Or are they like the Bush or Stone Temple Pilots of the thing?

Anyway. This is, probably, a great live number. It probably gets people up and dancing and saying to each other: “I like that you can get up and dance to it.” The band is probably talented as all hell, with the chops and the stage presence and even some well-received crowd interaction. They swagger around the venue, they get a little bit tips and then they still bang out an amazing show. They bring the house down, is what I am saying. But: I just can’t be fucked with stuff like this. Fuck it. [3]

James Manning: A bouncy swing jazz number with NZ bar-stool blood. The brass and piano solo felt a little out of place and end up slowing the lively pace, and is an the indulgence that works against the song. The kind of track that would be popular at drunken groom parties, wedding receptions and English Lit ‘drinkies and thinkies’ nights where fans of Fitzgerald debate the resurgence of Jazz Age themes in popular music thanks to Baz Luhrman’s recent adaptation. It’s a bit of light hearted fun sure to spark an ice-breaker or first dance. [5]

Chloe Cairncross: I’ve always had a soft spot for jazzy rhythm and blues for its ability to transport me back to the shiny idea of a more innocent time, when men went out a-wooing and women batted their eyelashes while they shimmied on the dance-floor. The Babyshakes are no different in that regard. Extremely competent and energetic musicians make for the magical component that sends me daydreaming of 1960’s New York jazz bars. However, I feel that Sal Valentine is not the right puzzle piece to try and cram in to the frontman space, or, at the very least, on this particular single. It makes sense, knowing that he writes most of their material, but his voice is too gravelly, pained, faithless – the most perfect voice for the dragging hopelessness of blues rock, not for an upbeat swing. Having said that, this odd combination makes for an original shake-up – if The Babyshakes were just the eternal New York jazz band of my daydreams, they would simply be fitting into the stereotyped mould. It is a pleasantly fun single that would be likely to get everyone up and dancing, even without the aid of alcoholic beverages. [7]

Vincent Michaelsen: Even at its most genuine, swing and big band stuff is something I’ve never been able to stomach, and I’ve far less appreciation when it comes as neatly themed and trying as this. I can’t fault this track on it’s execution and I’m sure it would go down with a bang at some drunken ‘Jazz in the park’ type thing this coming summer, but until then I’ve no intention of listening again. [4]

Alex Braae: For a song that bustles this hard, it never really got going until the singer went a-capella. In that moment it changed from being the musical equivalent of a period piece to something with a bit of soul. Most people will probably react to this in the same way they would react to anything so heavily bounded within a specific musical style. Good enough for a once off listen, and you could probably have a good night dancing to this band. However, if its not the style you’re into then you wont be into this. [6]

Hayden Currie: A sensational example of the North Shore Rockabilly genre, which has been making big waves this year, with dozens of pop-punk guitars falling in favour of Doo-wop inspired scat-play. This is truly shaping up to be the summer of North Shore Doo-wopabilly. [8.999999]

Stephanie Fawcett: The slow opening sounds like one of those bands who only ever play at the wanky wine bar you accidentally stumbled into that one time. That said, once it gets going, it’s jaunty, upbeat and, at only three minutes long, it finishes before you can get too sick of it. [6]

Luke Jacobs: ‘She Ain’t No Good’, whilst cliche in its lyrical content has charm mainly coming from the arrangement which is quite slick sounding. Instrumentally there’s nothing happening here that I haven’t heard from other big band tracks but it works well. I think the biggest strength on display is that I feel like I am having fun when I listen to this song. So many bands take themselves far too seriously with nothing to back it up. That sense of fun makes the song work and it’s why I believe that while I would never buy this for myself, I know others that would get a major kick out of it and I’d tell them to snap it up in a second. [8]

Elizabeth Beattie: Musically it’s decent. This energetic piece boasts a sweet piano solo, but the track just isn’t original in any way. This old-timey jazz-jive piece brings nothing new. It’s well executed and nicely produced and would make a fine soundtrack piece, but it’s just not varied enough to hold the listeners interest more than once. [5]

Robyn Gallagher: So here’s the dilemma. It’s a fun, lively song and everyone on the recording sounds like they’re having a fab time. But at the same time, this sounds like the sort of band who play at corporate functions and book them now for the busy Christmas season, etc. Yeah, it’s a quality recording, but it comes across as a pastiche of rhythm and blues, not a fresh sound. There’s nothing about this that makes me think it’s a product of 2013. This is the sound of a band that can be found playing over by the mobile spitroast table. [3]

Eden Bradfield: I remember seeing Sal Valentine on Good Morning (yes, that Good Morning) and thinking of David Merritt’s poem which runs along of the premise of “If I ever appear on the Good Morning show, shoot me”. Not always true, but the musical guests always seem weirdly still – at least the official, on-the-show-not-on-the-street-ones they have on. Clearly I have done some Good Morning show watching in my time.

Partially I think it’s down to the mixing at Good Morning. They don’t want to mix anything too “punchy” so they go for what a middle aged hi-fi specialist who only listens to mid-50s swing guitar would choose. Nothing against mid-50s swing guitar, but it’s this tendency that makes even great live acts sound flat – Delaney Davidson and Marlon Williams et al. So the mixing didn’t do poor old Sal any favours, who I’ve also seen live and isn’t a great performer by any means.

The reason I’m giving you my dirge on the Good Morning show is that Sal Valentine and co. are exactly the kind of music the Good Morning show probably has sex to (or at least its demographic) (since I have watched Good Morning does that make me part of its demographic???!!!). It’s that kind of music – music for Norah Jones fans who want something A Bit Different. It’s music influenced by those early 50s tracks (both the Chess stuff and a bit of big band too) that were influenced in turn by earlier blues tracks, which isn’t a horrible idea in principal (Bob Dylan successfully ripped off the decade preceding in a whole bunch of late 90s and early 2000s albums).

They’re a competent bunch of musicians. But there’s no soul, no magical Sinatra-esque holding your gaze, not quite raucous enough to bear a whisper against Howlin’ Wolf. There’s no real belief that “she ain’t no good” ‘cause it’s rote – Valentine might as well be dusting off any number of words. Actually, the best parts of the song are the “do be do’s” and the chorus, who make a fine job of repeating “she ain’t no good”. OK: it’s unrealistic to hold anybody to Sinatra standards. Throw in Jolson, Crosby or what have you for good measur e- Wikipedia that shit with “50s singers” “40s singers” “crooners” etc. You don’t have to be Sinatra to take a whack at big band/jive/whatever. But you need to find your own voice. Make your foibles your strengths, because no great voice ever was perfect in the least. Here it’s all professionalism and mimicry. The instrumental solos fall into the same category – you can tell the saxophonist knows how to play just from the way they accent notes and gently overblow. But the notes! Rote, as familiar as Bo Didley’s “I’m a man” riff.

I really love the type of music Sal and co. make. I grew up with listening to bop and jive and big band and Sinatra and whoever. But this? It doesn’t jive (man) (kool kats). All big band music is acting. I mean, Sinatra might not believe he’s going on a jetplane but it’s a weird and magical interface between the audience and singer. Not actually acting like “ok guys I’m going on a jetplane now bye!!!!”, but a suspension of disbelief where the words mean something and take you somewhere. More of that. [4]

Oli Lewis: The city of sails’ self-acclaimed premier band, Sal Valentine & The Babyshakes, make the kind of music your hip grandfather, along with his beau, Tall Sally Silver, might once have jived the night away to. Careening straight out of Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age, by way of the fretful, nihilistic energy of the beats, Valentine and his shifting band of Babyshakers have arrived drunk and well-tailored, ready to inject a sense of old-time fun into the local scene.

Their track ‘She Ain’t No Good’ opens with bursts of raucous crowd noise. Intended to evoke the ramshackle ambience of a speakeasy-swing music’s spiritual home, the cacophony of voices resembles a drunken choir. Above the fray Valentine’s sonorous vocals swoop and soar, buoyed by the noise of the bar and the faint shuffle of a bluesy piano. This languid, boozy opening however belies the frantic swing to follow.

Recounting the tale of a friend done wrong by his girl, the track explodes immediately after Valentine’s assertion that ‘she ain’t no good’. An upbeat, double-time bass line pounds out the beat, supported by the relentless crack of a snare. Over top the brass slides and gyrates, while Valentine belts out the kind of classic, elongated blues’ yowls that made Elvis a household name more than half a century ago.

Cutting edge this is not, fun it most certainly is. As Duke Ellington once put it, ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)’ and by golly, do Sal Valentine & The Babyshakes have swing. If this track is anything to go by, their debut album is sure to be a meaningful one. [7]

Alex Lyall: This can’t really be live can it? While I have seen them in the flesh and they certainly were fantastic I don’t remember the audience clinging onto every word like that. Anyway, I don’t think reviewing the audience is a job so I’ll stick to the song. It’s certainly fun, uptempo jazzy bass, awesome dynamic between drums, vocals and back-ups and the piano improv sesh is interesting too. Kitty, Daisy & Lewis fans will eat this shit for breakfast, but I’m not a fan of that band and I think showman jazz is too much of a cheesy affair. [6]

Nick Braae: I think what I like the most about ‘She Ain’t No Good’ is that it’s not complex or pretentious; it’s just good swing music. The rhythm section stays on top of the groove, the horn stabs are crisp, and the sax solo is free. Most of all, Sal Valentine has a perfect sense of the song’s shape. It would have been easy for the band to rest on the modulation or the fast tempo for creating the song’s climax. Instead, on the stop-time lines, “I’m having trouble with this girl // Can you save me from this dismay?” Valentine strains to the top of his range and pulls through with a hint of rubato on the final words. It’s a little bit irreverent and a whole lot of fun. Sal Valentine and the Babyshakes have not written the perfect song, but they nailed what they set out to do. The style is old, but the band sound fresh and alive. Most importantly, ‘She Ain’t No Good’ makes me want to get up, jump, jive an’ wail. [9]

18 Comments

  1. Great set of reviews here – I mean interesting, fun and provactive writing and all that. Good work people.

  2. this song – and the band from which it was birthed – is basically that scene from the mask where jim carrey dances with cameron diaz except cornier and very, very depressing

  3. The fact that that this song clearly has nothing much to do with big band tradition or swing at all shows the calibre of the commentary here. Pretty disappointing writing from many of the reviewers.

    • Well, apart from how it sounds that is.

      • Unless they invented a whole style of music independent to the creation of big band and swing and the styles just happen to be super-duper similar, I don’t see how that’s possible. Bit like Maria Callas claiming not to be an opera singer.

      • It sounds, groove-wise, like Ray Charles’s “Mess Around”. Doesn’t sound like big band to anyone who listens to big band music. Just because a band has a horn section and references music from pre-1960s doesn’t mean that the swing or big band label is appropriate; that’s just fucking lazy. Gospel/rhythm and blues is a much more appropriate touchstone. Kirby’s right; there’s no room for intelligent discussion about music if people can’t even get the musical context correct. The other single on their bandcamp sounds a little more in the swing/big band tradition, but this isn’t about the other single.

      • I think the thing is, is that all that pre-60s stuff takes from one another so much that it’s kind of silly arguing about which (already loose) genre it fits into. Replace my mentions of “big band” with “gospel” or whatever and my sentences still read the same- the criticisms are still valid, etc. It’s not about whether the track fits into any genre- it’s that it’s not convincing as a track. All pre-60s ‘pop’ music that we’re talking about here has certain characteristics in common- it’s gotta have soul, it’s gotta be convincing, doesn’t matter whether it’s Sinatra or Ray Charles or Blind Lemon Jefferson. (And anyway, that piano solo is about as big band as they come)

        Makes me want to watch some Woody Allen. I hear that new film’s good.

    • Well, there’s at least 20 people in that picture. I’d call that a big band.

      • Chloe Cairncross says:

        Hey, I mentioned the phrase “rhythm and blues”…yay me, guess I’m not that “fucking lazy” after all. And yes, they literally are a big band!

      • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_band Standard big band is 17 people, with three distinct and contrapuntal horn sections, and usually no vocalists, other than featured guest singers. From what I can tell, Babyshakes are a 10 piece band with one horn section and three vocalists, playing, in the case of this single, music that is not directly connected to the music of Sinatra, et al. Like I said, this band is not a “big band” to anyone who understands big band music as a genre. Unless you just mean that they’re a band with more people than most pop bands today, which is fair enough!

    • they list ‘jazz jive jump rhythm and blues soul swing’ in the tags on their bandcamp page for the song. so: ‘swing’.

  4. Why have the reviews become so long on GSGBSB? I thought the purpose was to give a somewhat succinct opinion not a freaking article on the history of music!

    To me it seems to defeat the whole purpose of GSGBSB if the reviewers are essentially writing stand alone articles on a single song. To me the reader I find the format far more enjoyable when the author can get their opinion across in say 160 characters or so, as opposed to complex analysis of the meaning of music.

  5. Marshy Michaels says:

    I think one of the pluses about this format is that there is freedom to write as much or as little as is required. You don’t have to read them if they become too tiring or maybe you could get one of those energy drinks half way through.

    • Yeah +1. Obviously the tough thing about a really regular format like this is getting people to turn stuff in on time, so the fact that there’s no pressure to write a lot about a song is great for that. But if people feel moved to write a lot, then all the better.

  6. I get the feeling the reviews were done by some dudes with serious jazz preconceptions. There were some great points about aspects of the babyshakes musicality and lead ma. I agree actually think the “back up” girls if you listen have the real voices.

    I feel the whole genre ( and the fact that the genre has a quite sizable contemporary following) was a bit unnecessarily maligned
    and not very well understood by these reviewers.
    Big Band is NEVER WAS never Meant to be recordable music. It is supposed to be utterly temporal
    compel you
    enthral you
    make you happy and dance that is all.

    • Fair points re: the temporality of big band, but one of the great things about recordings of that era is that they sound great anyway because recording engineers didn’t fuck around (plus they recorded in some pretty great rooms and buildings)

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