The Spark & the Fire

The Spark & the Fire

A retro vibe pervades Leftover Cuties’ sophomore album, filtered through a 21st-century sensibility that’s a tad ironic but still genuine. While the jazz sounds of the ‘30s and ‘40s remain central to this L.A.-based combo’s appeal, The Spark & The Fire is also laced with Phil Spector–style pop (“What’s the Matter?”), ‘60s-era Memphis soul (“Clarity”), and classic Tin Pan Alley balladry (“I’ve Been Waiting”). Shirli McAllen’s purring delivery as lead singer combines silken smoothness with a sarcastic bite that suggests Patti Page after a few stiff martinis. She leaps from hearty numbers like “Thick and Thin” and “One Heart” to lighter, bouncier tunes like “All That Love” and “Rise and Shine” with plucky vaudevillian charm. Strong, confident performances on “Blind Man” and “Shame” prove McAllen’s substance as a vocalist. She’s helped immensely by the razor-sharp backing of her bandmates, who match resonant guitar flourishes and tasty piano dabs with New Orleans–flavored brass throughout. Fans of everyone from Squirrel Nut Zippers to The Good Lovelies will find much to like on this sly, beguiling, and expertly rendered release.

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