The Strands are a rare wine of music, like a fine Cabernet Sauvignon that is impressively good at first taste but gets richer, smokier and more complex as you continue to listen. By the time lead singer Amanda Campbell finishes the last note of the last song of a performance or a recording, you realize that the music of The Strands has become a familiar friend, prized yet comfortable.
Their performance Saturday night to a standing room only crowd at Hollywood’s venerable Room5 Lounge perfectly showcased British soul singer Campbell’s uncanny ability to sing as smooth as glass, but put a bite into the words. Her uniquely supple voice evokes nostalgia, determination and romance all at once. The performance also showcased the intense lyrics of keyboardist and songwriter Susan Ferrari whose playing parses a tone for the band and whose musical poetry enters your ears and creates the moods and places and times and feelings The Strand is known for.
The band was formed in 2011 when Campbell, known as Mandy in her hometown of Barking England and who now lives in Los Angeles with her husband, dogs, cats and chickens), sang at a karaoke party where people were stunned at the quality of her voice. Her husband, bass player Paul Campbell, did what any husband would do — he formed a band with his wife as the lead singer, bringing together top flight talent like Ferrari, West Coast Blues Hall of Fame Inductee guitarist Richard Green and long-time popular drummer Lance Tamanaha, formerly of Jupiter Ignition. The wisdom of Paul’s choices was apparent Saturday night on stage at the Room5.
The finely-chiseled Campbell took the stage in an sophisticated black top and elegant black sequined pants – a shimmering dark form that focused you on her striking blond hair, piercing eyes and expressive hands. She opened with “Never a Dull Moment” from the Entanglement EP, written by Ferrari, whose opening lines, Somebody’s on the phone/thinking you’re home alone/Somebody’s on the street/wishing that you could meet/ create a cinematic scene in your head, letting you know this is going to be a special performance.
Moving on to “Love is on the Line”, Campbell, backed by Ferrari on vocals, modulated her unusual voice to deepen the experience, seeming to lower the illumination level in the room as her high cheekbones caught the light while she spooled out the lyrics, I don’t want charity/I want to give you all I’ve got//Maybe some clarity/Babe, it would mean a lot/ and then segued seamlessly into “Stop and Turn”, also from the album and co-written by Campbell and Ferrari.
Staying with songs from the EP, The Stands delivered “Feelin’ It and “Flying”, the former, co-written by Campbell, with a higher tempo and more energized drumming from the otherwise restrained Tamanaha (who has joined the band recently) and a bit of Green’s legendary guitar solo and out-front riffs. Both Campbell and Ferrari ticked up the energy, with Campbell undulating sensuously as she moved into near rap in some verses and Ferrari adding a powerful note with her backup vocals The energy continued with “Flying” as Campbell moved her voice into “soar” mode, again backed by Susan. The effect is like a soft rainbow comet sailing across a dark, star-scattered sky.
After “Flying” The Strand moved into new song territory, previewing an album due out in January, starting with “The River” and “Gone”, the former keeping the nostalgic jazz feeling, but the latter moving into blues/pop territory with a faster tempo and pop form. The band continued toward a more blues rock feel with “Everything Can’t Always Go Your Way” and then kicked into pop with “Pushing Me Away” and the message-themed “Mother Nature” driven by Green’s blues-rock guitar riffs. Campbell got the ok for one more song (amid cries of “Two!” from the crowd) and wrapped up with “That’s OK Mana”, opening with a great guitar riff and ending with a finale sung by the band to applause and shouts for “more!”
Fortunately, there will be more as The Strands book more dates in the Los Angeles/Hollywood area, their next one being at the historic west side blues club, Harvell’s, on December 29, treating fans to their luxurious “artisanal” music, as Campbell calls it. I expect there will be more dates after that to support the next album. Whatever the schedule, the rare wine of The Strands is now a comfortable taste in my ears. I look forward to drinking in more of it.
Patrick O’Heffernan. Host, Music FridayLive!
Entanglement can be streamed at http://rvrb.fm/1TlSMAd