Gary B & The Notions – New Twist & Shout
Ever since I interviewed Gary Barrett, Jr. a few months ago and he noted Jonathan Richman as one of his personal songwriting heroes, comparisons to the Modern Lovers frontman keep springing to mind every time I listen to Gary B & The Notions‘ latest album. Like Richman, Barrett has a voice that’s an acquired taste and a certain air of perpetual adolescence, a romantic innocence inextricably tied to a fascination with older forms and tropes of rock. Even the title of the album, New Twist & Shout, is a nod to early rock’n'roll, though it doesn’t quite feature anything close to an actual rewrite of “Twist & Shout.”
Of course, Gary B’s songs are thoroughly modern in some senses; the album’s standout, “Jenny,” is an ode to Jennifer Lopez’s hot pants. But even musically, the song is an effective microcosm for how a former record store clerk like Barrett can condense musical history in his own compositions without coming off too blatantly retro, with springy power pop of the song’s first half contrasting nicely with a slower outro that almost feels like a ’50s ballad. New Twist & Shout is both the Notions’ first full-length and their debut release for The Beechfields, but at 34 minutes it wisely gears itself towards short attention spans and humble ambitions much like their enjoyable two early EPs, 2007’s promising Get Those Crazy Notions! and 2008’s brief but jam-packed Let Yourself Out.
In contrast to the amiable throwbacks that dominate the album, “New York Jet Set Garbage” is jittery and aggressive, the kind of divisive song that might be one listener’s favorite and another’s least favorite. But either way, that penultimate track builds up a nice tension that’s soon released by the laid back closer “Landscapes & Skylines,” showing once again how Gary B knows his rock history, and uses that knowledge to craft a satisfying and well sequenced album.