French band ONYX & THE RED LIPS, which strictly speaking is mainly and not totally French, started out in 2013 as the solo project of US composer and vocalist Floriane Andersen, and over the years this developed into a seven person strong band unit. In April 2019 they released their debut album “Cinematic” on French label Lgsr.
Describing the music of Onyx & The Red Lips is something of a challenge in many ways. The music is by and large retro-oriented, with solid nods back to the 1940’s and 50’s, but also incorporate details and compositions with a rather more contemporary orientation. But by and large my impression is that a liberally jazz-flavored take on Americana probably is a good starting point to operate out from, as it does provide some useful tags to hold on to.
That being said, the focus throughout are vocals. The band have three vocalists, and they all get their fair share of limelight throughout. Lead and backing vocals and vocal harmonies are key features, and unless I’m much mistaken the vocalists play around a lot with vocal styles. I think I heard references to both barbershop, swing and doo-wop, as well as tone and melody orientations typical from these and other styles explored within the context and framework of somewhat different stylistic traditions. As I am not schooled in such matters my impressions may be erroneous there of course, but even so these vocalists have a field day of using their vocals in a playful manner, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they deliberately breaks down some barriers and traditions along the way here.
Most of the songs appears to have a jazz backbone somewhere, mainly by way of the acoustic bass but also with the drummer emphasizing that aspect of the music. The vocalists play around as notes, while the guitarists appears to be fond of both singer/songwriter material, roots music and Americana. Occasionally also dipping their toes into both Country and blues in a more direct manner. The band aren’t strangers to the piano ballad either, and in a one-off on the album they take a sharp step to the left and into a style that to my ears sounds like a dampened version of grunge as well.
The music is difficult to describe and even more challenging to pigeonhole though, at least from a writer with my kind of background. Case in point: The track ‘Sorry’. This is the song that left me with the most favorable impression by far, a shining brilliant light for me where all the band’s different talents manages to elevate the end result on to a higher level. Butt in terms of style? Jazz, Americana and rockabilly elements are all present, as are some defined swing elements and tight, playful and enthusiastic brass details of the kind that makes me think of Broadway musicals just as much as jazz or, indeed, the jazz tradition swing.
If one word can summarize this album, then it is American. What just about all the aspects and details thrown into the blender here have in common is that they are either developed or made most famous in the good, old US. An album made to entertain, and possibly also made to frustrate a great many music writers out there, especially the ones that likes to pigeonhole an album into a set category by default.
If American music in general is your thing, you enjoy jazz and various aspects of Americana, and have a soft spot for liberal amounts of vocals and vocal harmonies, then Onyx & The Red Lips is a band that merits an inspection. Especially if a distinctive US sound to this totality sounds like a good thing, and you don’t mind an occasional retro oriented everything but the kitchen sink music experience inside such a framework.
My rating: 76/100
2. Place On Earth
3. Lucky Day
4. Your Soul
8. Follow Me
9. Cherry Lips