CHARLIE FAYE & THE FAYETTES
JUMP TO RETRO-REVIVAL FOREFRONT
WITH SELF-TITLED ALBUM OF SMART, ‘60S-INFLUENCED SOUL-POP
AUSTIN, Texas — If ever a decade changed everything, it was the ‘60s. The music, the mood, the attitudes … the whole era made such an earthquake-like impact, we still feel its reverberations. And inspirations.
Charlie Faye & the Fayettes weren’t around then, but this Austin trio are so good at building a groove rooted in that rich time, it’s as if they’re channelers. Actually, they are, but don’t think “nostalgia act”; both onstage and on their self-titled release, Charlie Faye & the Fayettes (2016), they craft smart soul-pop that merges the swinging, swaying sound and style of ‘60s girl groups with a modern vibe that’s so current, they’re dancing to the forefront of a retro revival.
With the Fayettes, leader Charlie Faye has finally found the sonic sweet spot she started seeking even before her last album, 2013’s You Were Fine, You Weren’t Even Lonely, which became the chronicle of her breakup with producer Will Sexton as they recorded it. That one reached No. 16 on the Americana Music Association’s airplay chart and earned her a “Songwriter of the Week” designation from American Songwriter magazine’s website — not to mention an out-of-the-blue email from Grammy-winning artist and producer Peter Asher, who praised her work and added, “I look forward to … hearing what you do next.”
His encouragement was just the catalyst she needed to crystallize her love of the Shirelles and Ronettes with her desire to break out of the solo singer-songwriter mold.
"I wanted to do something more fun — to write upbeat songs and create an entertaining show, because that's what I want to see," Faye explains. “I’ve always loved the girl groups from the ‘60s; that’s the stuff I grew up on. And I’ve always loved singing harmonies with my friends, so it was a natural progression for me to want to do a girl group.”
And what a group it is. BettySoo and Akina Adderley both have established histories as solo artists and background vocalists. The trio’s shared height (they’re all within a half-inch of 5-foot-1) and distinct ethnicities (Jewish, Korean and African-American) just adds cute to their considerable charms.
But all the cuteness in the world wouldn’t matter without songs, and here, Faye’s great ear and intelligent writing come to the fore. On her own or with co-writers including Bill DeMain and Craig Marshall, she penned 11 tracks that marry beguiling lyrics with incredibly catchy melodies. The material, recorded in Los Angeles and Austin by producer/engineer Dave Way (Michael Jackson, Fiona Apple), has already earned the band a South By Southwest 2016 showcase slot.
Two standouts, “Coming Round the Bend” and “Green Light,” pay fabulous homage to the Shangri-Las and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. “Bend’s" cantering beat and just-right production turn every second of its 2½ minutes into sheer delight (Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Pete Thomas, of Elvis Costello’s Attractions, gets the album’s drumming credit). The equally strong “Green Light” could serve as an answer song to the Supremes’ “Stop! In the Name of Love.” “You’ve got the green light, baby,” Faye sings in her sweet-smooth come-on voice. “I’m saying yes, not maybe. Why are we taking things so slow?”
Every one of these songs has allure galore. In “Heart,” musical references to Elvis and Buddy Holly are punctuated with the lyric, “don’t be cruel.” “Delayed Reaction” peppers its Spector influence with horn pumps and synth tweets for a fast-paced frolic from past to present. “Sweet Little Messages” makes another seamless connection from then to now, as illustrated in a super-cool video produced by Jazz Mills.
As listeners will quickly note, Faye has another formidable influence, one Asher also picked up on in his survey of her work: the Stax/Volt sound. Like artists from Leon Bridges and Anderson East to St. Paul & the Broken Bones and Lianne La Havas, Faye is part of the new generation unearthing a mother lode of soul inspiration from that musical map point where Memphis and Muscle Shoals intersect.
On “One More Chance,” Faye’s Dusty delivery and the Fayettes’ perfectly placed harmonies conjure visions of synchronized hip swivels and arm gestures. The funky “East Side” has a similar effect; co-writer Eric Holden’s deep bass furrows and layered horns by sax great Steve Elson (David Bowie’s go-to honker) drive it right to the hip side of town. But inside its feel-good groove and lighter lyrics lies some heavier socio-political commentary about what happens when neighborhoods change.
That subject has carried particular resonance with Faye since she moved to Austin and wound up in a tightknit community of musicians inhabiting an enclave of South Austin cottages. Not only did she title her 2009 debut album Wilson St. in honor of that spot, she galvanized a movement to save the historic cottages, leading a David-and-Goliath battle against a major real-estate developer. In addition to national coverage, her effort earned her much respect in a rapidly growing city struggling to preserve its heritage.
For her follow-up, 2011’s Travels with Charlie, Faye arranged an unconventional tour; instead of spending a little time in a lot of places, she spent a month in each of 10 cities, playing and recording with local musicians she befriended. Collaborators included Kenny Vaughan, Chris Scruggs, Malcolm Burn, Warren Storm, C.C. Adcock, Ian Moore, Sergio Mendoza and Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino. That album reached No. 7 on the AMA airplay chart.
Clearly, she’s an achiever — a woman who has both great ideas and the determination it takes to make them real. Now she’s feeling an urge to band together with fellow retro-revivalists to share this sound with new audiences.
Yes, Charlie Faye is ready to launch another movement. An invitation across the nation. And the time is right … for dancing.