With "Mood Lit," his second full-length release of moody and bouncy instrumental pop tunes, Jim Duffy moves closer to the front of the stage but remains off-center.
Duffy leads a small combo on piano and an early-1960s Wurlitzer electronic piano. Reference points include AM radio pop music, detective dramas, twilight falling on kitchenettes, lounge acts in their third set. But this is no retro affair. "Mood Lit" is sincere to a fault.
The sound is leaner than on Duffy’s first full-length release, "Side One," and the combo may be swinging a little harder. On drums is Dennis Diken of the world-renowned Smithereens. On bass guitar is Paul Page, who records and tours with Ian Hunter. On guitar and lap steel is Lance Doss, who has recorded and toured with John Cale.
Duffy and the combo perform with minimal fuss and a lot of fervor, starting with a head-turning version of Mose Allison's "Look Here," then rolling through eleven original tunes. On "Early Germ," they play in the area where twang meets soul. On "Free Formation," they demonstrate that they came up through the rock basements. "The Night Clerk" offers an eerie audio portrait. Then, on "Our Next Guest," the combo suddenly appears in matching gaudy blazers. What does Duffy think he's up to?
"If you don't notice it's instrumental, so much the better," he says.
The combo convened in a basement studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Sound engineer Greg Duffin (no relation), who is often seen working the console on Regina Spektor's world tours, recorded and mixed "Mood Lit" in tube-warm analog sound.
"We made this record very quickly, over a long period of time," Duffy explains.
Kevin Kendrick of A Big Yes and a Small No adds an almost too-intimate vibraphone to "If You Insist." On "Memento Mori," Mac Gollehon's compact, punchy brass arrangement pushes the tune over the goal line. Claire Daly's baritone sax on "Balladeer" supplies a bright moment. On the title tune, "Mood Lit," Duffy makes an obligatory and, as he says, "almost involutary" nod to Burt Bacharach.
im Duffy has performed or recorded with rock-and-roll pioneers Wanda Jackson and Freddie "Boom Boom" Cannon, as well as the Bottle Rockets, Reid Paley, Tandy, the Fleshtones, Speedball Baby, Bone-Box, the Damnwells, Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, Joe Flood, Will Rigby and many others. Duffy played keyboards in the band Martin's Folly and sometimes still does. Once upon a time, he played bass guitar in the Boston band Rods and Cones, and sometimes he still does that, too.
The Jim Duffy Combo, the core group of Duffy, Diken, Page and Doss, plus the occasional special guest, can sometimes be heard at the Lakeside Lounge on Avenue B in Manhattan and at other venues in the New York area.
Is Mood Lit good "make-out" music? Dim the lights and see for yourself.
-- Derek Shackwell-Smith
St. Cleve Chronicle