Brian Just Band embraces '60s pop on new album
If you're still looking for a perfect summer soundtrack, look no further than the Brian Just Band. The Minneapolis sextet released their first full-length record in May, the 1960s-esque If You Like To Be Alone Or If You Need To Be With Someone. Their single "Electric," a melodic stomper from the new record, has been in heavy rotation on The Current, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a sunnier July driving tune.
With the summer months fully upon us and the band's recent love from The Current, now is a great time to get to know the Brian Just Band. The crew has already played a number of shows around the Twin Cities this summer, including a mid-afternoon set at the Stone Arch Bridge Arts Festival and most recently, a Triple Rock gig with local heavyweights Communist Daughter and Howler. But if you missed those, the band is opening this Friday at Nick and Eddie, with Richard Lloyd (of the band Television), Love Lake, and Love Cat. In advance of that concert, we took a listen to their most recent album.
If You Like To Be Alone Or If You Need To Be With Someone is full of lushly-arranged folk-pop tunes that make great use of band's varied instrumentation. Banjo, trumpet, psychedelic organ sounds, flute and the occasional violin drift through the warm sonic mix. The band certainly has a unique instrumentation, but it doesn't sound overstuffed like some orchestral pop can at times.
There's a Belle & Sebastian's lushness to the band, but with a heavier emphasis on the 1960s pop that undoubtedly inspired the Scottish band. The Mamas and the Papas and The Kinks' occasionally technicolor sound are undoubtedly reference points for their music as well.
Just has recorded two other albums under his own name, and those found him embracing a much folkier, acoustic bluegrass sound. There are still traces of those acoustic roots on his band's new one, especially through Rick Widen's occasional banjo. (Like many of the band's musicians, Widen plays multiple instruments, and the album also features his contributions on trumpet and trombone). However, If You Like To Be Alone is much more of a full-band retro pop album compared to Just's earlier work, and this change suits his music just fine.
Many of Just's songs sneak up on you; the band isn't trying to bludgeon you over the top of the head with their pop hooks. This relaxed approach accentuates the nice instrumental work going on in the songs: the banjo-led "We Don't Break Bread" is a beautiful textural piece carried by an instrument easy to overshadow with five other musicians.
Similarly, the flute or violin melodies floating through tunes like "Washburn Square" or "Sinking Into My Shoes" play integral parts, and the band's relaxed playing lets the instruments speak nicely. The gentle near-bossa nova rhythm of "Sinking Into My Shoes" and the 1960s boy-girl vocal harmonies lend a gentle lilt to the song, perfectly complimenting Just's springtime lyrical imagery.
Even when the band amps up for the kaleidoscopic "Electric," there's still an element of comfort with the song, and the bandmembers aren't simply bashing their instruments. Josie Schmitt's colorful organ part never overshadows Jenny Hanson's flute melody, and the song maintains a wonderfully sunny vibe throughout. It's no wonder The Current has been playing the track more frequently lately.
Swing by Nick and Eddie Restaurant Bar early on Friday night to catch the band's opening set. And it's probably worth it to stick around to catch Richard Lloyd -- maybe he'll play "Marquee Moon."
Richard Lloyd, Love Cat, Love Lake, and the Brian Just Band play Nick and Eddie Restaurant Bar this Friday at 8 p.m.
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