As befits a band who incorporate folk, jazz, bluegrass and funk into their œuvre, New York’s Steel Keys & Brass have also grown a reputation for eclectic covers by anyone from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin to Miles Davis. ‘Vaudevillians’ is their first attempt at nailing all these influences in to one album. Good luck chaps!
There are few greater indicators of versatility when country rock and jazz pop appear in the course of the first song but it’s hard to swallow. Similarly, though it’s easy to imagine the frenetic likes of ‘Shots At Walter’s’ and ‘Some Stranger’ faring well in the live environment, their impact is lost on record.
However, ‘Broken Bottle Cap’ demonstrates that one of the foursome’s real skills is in slick jazz rock; with the song bolstered by rock-solid hooks. If they’re not quite in the Steely Dan league, British fans may appreciate a kinship with Matt Bianco and The Style Council here. Credit to for ‘Hope You Don’t Meet Me’; a rare moment where the group deliver a sense of romantic longing and if the vocals can be a little too forceful at times, ‘Whiskey Wine & Grass’ has an inner core of tenderness that the group should explore more often. Then just when things seem to be getting a bit predictable they throw some real curveballs with the twisted funk of ‘Caught Me’ and then ‘In The Basement’ crops up; a track which incorporates a rap element of all things.
This kind of music normally requires a huge group of players but Steel Keys & Brass confine their team to a mere four people. Considering its variety, ‘Vaudevillians’ is a surprisingly coherent compendium of music but there’s a danger that it could alienate rather than enrapture by trying to appeal to so many audiences at one time.
Steely Dan, Vee Device, Matt Bianco