The second release by an engaging duo of rock-‘n’-loungers (first being the Josh Max Outfit’s Make It Snappy), by The Maxes is a fine and dandy set of indy retro pop.
Comprised of the husband-&-wife team of Josh & Julie Max, the pair blend Nick Lowe/John Prine tossed-off lyrical smarts with high-flown theatre diva pyrotechnics in a manner that shouldn’t really work but somehow does: kinda like how “When The Hangover Starts” Squeeze might’ve sounded if one-half of Difford & Tilbrook had been a zaftig soprano instead of a nasally popster. It’s music for sitting in an outdoor café with a potent-but-exotic mixed drink right in front of you – as you riff with your partner about the passers-by, say: just a fun collection of handmade pop tunes.
The disc opens with “Stand And Dig It,” a Tex-Mex flavored shouter with organ work reminiscent of Augie Meyers, then moves into the first of what’ll be a variety of Latin-rhythm showcases for Julie entitled “It’s The Beat That Gets You.” Arguably the weakest track lyrically (makes me think of all those 70’s Era Beach Boys songs promulgating the Glories of Song), it still remains noteworthy in these post-Sopranos days for slipping a sweetly sung “Bada Boom, Bada Bing” into its chorus.
Considerably keener are the Josh-sung “Fortunately for Me;” Julie’s sexy bossa nova, “Let It Flow (All Over Your Body;” and the old-fashioned guitar-based rocker, “Turn Me On (You Know You Want To),” an ode to the perniciously addictive nature of tube-sucking that reminded me of Rockpile’s “Television.”
Midway into the disc, the Maxes assay their first cover, a remake of a tango entitled “No Cure for L’Amour.” Originally recorded by Eartha Kitt, the song was written by prolific Tin Pan Alley songsters Al Hoffman & Dick Manning (who also composed “Takes Two to Tango,” among other early fifties pop hits), the first half of that songwriting team being Josh Max’s great uncle.
Skittering between languid and frenetically ska/polka, the track’s reminiscent of Brave Combo’s great No, No, No, Cha Cha Cha, only, again, no one in that great band of Texan eclectics could’ve managed the crystalline high notes Julie reaches.
Later, the pair remake “Lucy in The Sky with Diamonds” as a jaunty rockabilly raveup (props to drummer Rich Zukor on this ‘un): certainly beats the muddle Elton John once made of this hazed-out musical classic.
Other album highlights include Josh’s jazzabilly “Lover Man,” with its aptly trembly guitarwork and cool double bass courtesy of Jeremy Allen; “Hark,” the closest to a new wave rock song this twosome has recorded; and the witty jazz club closer “Last Day.”
Instrumentally, most of this studio-created disc belongs to Josh – who’s particularly adept at fingery electric fretwork (note his surfy guitar hook on “Turn Me On”) – though I’d be bereft if I didn’t also make mention of Mike Cohen’s slick fluting on “Let It Flow” and Michael Bellar’s well-worked accordion on “L’Amour.”
In concert, the Maxes are typically a four-or-more-piece unit, though, on this disc at least, the work is closer to one of those multi-tracked elpees that Dave Edmunds used to produce in the pre-Rockpile days, only more intimate. For that, I credit Miz Julie’s alluring bono vox; her presence in the Maxes, I suspect, helps to ground songwriter Josh. “When the world breaks balls . . .” our hero acknowledges at one point, he’s fortunate to have her. Listening to the Maxes swap their high-spirited Manhattan-flavored vocals, you can’t help thinking that he’s probably right.