By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Queso que nada?
One of the hardest things to get a sense of is humor, which many people confuse with mockery, forgetting that making fun has always been territory staked out by those who can't quite make do. Nothing has borne this out quite like the beginning-to-get-annoying lounge revival. You can almost imagine the band standing around the garage, saying, "Hey, guys, this rock stuff is just too damn fast. What are we gonna do?"
"Hey! That lounge music is slower."
"Yeah! Do we need anything?"
"Uh, jackets, mostly, and maybe some cigars."
And so it goes, but in between shtick shakers like Dino Lee and serious explorers like our own Enablers, there's still room for fun, which is where you'll find Austin's Recliners. Able musicians all, their guitar, bass, drums, and trumpet/keyboards form a runway that's tight enough--they're undeniably craftsmen--to support vocalist and cheesemeister Neal Mehta as he capers and poses his way through diverse covers, some pretty obvious (the Police's "Roxanne") and others less expected and more inspired (Radiohead's "Creep" and the disco anthem "Hot Stuff").
Mehta isn't above a cocked eye or a smirk--far from it--but there's something about the way the Recliners reduce these songs using lounge as the universal solvent and then reassemble them according to their own leopardskin blueprints. Unexpected similarities pop up between reconstitutions, like Mehta's butter-smooth announcements that he wants to "take a hot one home tonight" ("Hot Stuff") and "I've got nine lives/cat's eyes" (AC/DC's "Back in Black"). They hint at deeper implications, if only the basic silliness behind pop music. Not exactly earthshaking, but in a world where John Mellencamp seems unable to distinguish between Van Gogh and Van Morrison, perhaps worthy of note.
But--despite all the cheese puns and a declaration that they want to "make Graceland look tasteful"--Cosa Caliente isn't just another ball of faux irony. On the original tunes--"Adore," "Deeper and Deeper," "It's All Talk"--Mehta can't help but get into his delivery a bit too much, forgetting to wink and instead closing his eyes for (maybe just) a moment, like he really cares, as anyone who bothers to front a band must. That may be the great fallacy behind our current preoccupation with irony: the implication that it's so uncool to care. The redeeming grace of Cosa Caliente lies in these moments--when Mehta's sincerity matches that of the band's precise accompaniment (especially the mellifluous trumpet of Russell Young)--and the smirk seems very much a smile.