What would you do if you woke up one morning and discovered that someone had transplanted Paul Simon’s voice box into your body. Well, if you were Ethan Gruska, you’d get together with your sister Barbara – who, as luck would have it, can also sing and play a pretty fair guitar – and gosh darnit you’d form a band! The Belle Brigade, whose sparkling self-titled album was released this week, are about to find out just how many Paul Simon references can be crammed into a debut’s worth of reviews. It would be nice if it weren’t mandatory to name check Simon when describing this band, but really, you’d have to bend over backward to avoid the comparison, and my back doesn’t bend that far.
Hopefully the brother/sister duo won’t take offense at the constant mentions, because the Simon comparisons are just a starting point in talking about this band. One of the great joys of rock music is that you can take the same basic ingredients, put them in a bag, shake it up, and out will fly something new. The Belle Brigade gallops from the gate with four songs that feel as if they simply could not be held down any longer. Among them is the addictive single “Losers,” released several months ago to widespread critical and fan praise. This may be the song that, three or four years from now, the band will become so tired of being asked to play, but right now it clearly defines the heart and soul of their sensibility – a sensibility, by the way, that feels miles and miles inland from their native L.A. Other gems include “Where Not to Look for Freedom” and “Belt of Orion.” Another track, “Lucky Guy”, sounds as if it could have been pulled off a Dave Edmunds or Nick Lowe album circa 1978 (there, that was a different reference!).
Although most of the 11 songs on the album have a youthful exuberance, there are enough variations and changes of pace (“Punchline”, “Rusted Wheel”, “Fasten You to Me”) to suggest a deep well of songwriting talent. The Belle Brigade is a young band that will likely be exciting to follow for a very long time.