Kim Lenz and the Jaguars

The One and Only (Hightone Records)

Used to be Kim Lenz and her Jaguars, though I suppose when your music is as static as this all-novelty-all-the-time act, you gotta shake things up somewhere, so why not the name? The surging audience for this local act has more to do with citywide retro-love than true musicality, although live, the band can play well enough and the girl can croon. The One and Only illustrates every strength and weakness inherent in restricting oneself to one long-gone genre. Strengths: the style purveyors have already set the tone, so you don't have to do much more than follow a formula and rewrite standards, which might not be a strength after all. Also, the music sounds so familiar (read: unchallenging) that the masses love it immediately. Let's face it, novelty bands with a finger on the pulse of a trend have it easy, and with the swing-lounge-rockabilly fixation somehow still washing the brains of legions, Lenz and the Jaguars are as set to win the popularity contest as a shoo-in prom queen. But what happens to Kim and company when the kids get tired of wearing pointy fringe bangs and creepers?

The full-length album, 14 songs of tinny, frenetic rockabilly, might be perfect to learn the jitterbug to, but it's more a lesson in how not to produce a rockabilly band. In an effort to recapture the hallowed old-school studio aesthetic of Sun or Columbia, producer Big Sandy has managed to suck the life out of a band that can kick much harder than this -- live, anyway. The one guitar splits off frequently to solo, leaving the rest of the band spinning unanchored; the drums sound as if they were recorded in a deep, empty well, and Lenz has a little problem hitting her notes. Consistently flat vocals are charming or at least forgivable in the context of lazy indie rock and dense lo-fi, but old-style pop needs a nail-it clarity that Lenz seems to overlook in the name of vocal "style," i.e., yodels and growls. If you want an uncensored beating of dance-hall sweat and juke-joint swank, check out any of Little Richard's original recordings, or Jerry Lee Lewis' piano scorch -- not the watered-down re-hash of a band that needs to be seen as much as heard.

And that's just it: The band's weaknesses don't surface when it takes the stage, boosted by a big-tone P.A. system and a room full of adrenalized dancers. Shame that the studio version can't capture that energy. But that's a tired story in tired terrain, one that every great live band has told. So if you want to get the idea of what Kim Lenz and her Jaguars can do, skip The One and Only and check your local listings for the band's next live show. And hurry up, because sooner than later, the only venue you'll be able to see them play is post-nuptials at the Dallas Country Club.

 
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