One of the acts I’m most eager to see this year at NXNE is The Beauties. The Six Shooter roots n’ roll band has moved from a ramshackle house band to somewhat of local legend by burning up the Dakota on Sunday nights. During their residency at the notorious Toronto watering hole they’ve seen the likes of Ron Sexsmith, Kevin Drew, and Justin Rutledge join them on stage – with Drew helping them focus their raucous sound into an album that is more than just electrifying bar room romps – and have been asked to be the backing band for a lot of these musicians they now call friends.
But as often as music comes down to who you know, The Beauties prove that what you know still trumps all. In their case, what they know is how to write electric laced roots anthems that get crowds singing along. In the beginning, the band was more focused on stand-up bass and mandolins, but as the audience grew, so did the need for volume. Although the multi-vocalist tracks still showcase their country leaning – the beautiful “Hearts of Down” is as enjoyable a picked, country rock nugget as I’ve heard this year – the self-titled is more about taking sonic risks.
Opening with the chugging guitar and soulful harmonies of “Fashion Blues” the seasoned vets show the kind of confidence and chops that only come from years of experience. Instead of coasting on the catchy riff, the band adds some honky tonk, Jerry Lee Lewis ivories and a gritty, uptempo (dare I say Velvets) sound explosion all in just over three-minutes. Not only does it smash any preconception you might have about the band, it shows that no matter how experimental they might get, they make every texture essential to the song.
I hate to revert to the standard cliches of their organic roots, but so many of the songs emit a freedom that is lost when a band starts with a simple, concise sound in mind. The quintet never limits their songs by trying to force the issue and it’s obvious no idea was thrown out before they gave it a go. The muscular rework of “The Devil Do”, the frantic “Tired Fired Blues”, the slowed down “Heart of Stone”, the hints of surf rock that start “Die Die Die”, and the stoner Floyd zones of “You Wish Better for Me” show the benefit of having multiple songwriters, but unlike so many bands trying to perfect the same recipe The Beauties showcase everyone’s voice in a cohesive way. Traditional sounds mix with the flourishes of noise and static slide in and out of the riffs to add depth but never – well, except for the hard to settle into “Heaviest of the World” – derail the flow of the record.
Even with all the good things the band delivers on their debut record, by all accounts they really hit their stride when the stage lights come on. If that’s the case, and considering the amount of talent that will share the stage with them on Thursday night (Hawksley Workman, Andy Kim, Oh Susanna, Royal Wood, Justin Rutledge, Jim Cuddy, and Amelia Curran to name a few), I don’t know how you can pass this show up.