Read a feature with Lucas Cates here
The CD Release Event for Back to the Cocoon is March 8 (5:30-8 pm) at the High Noon Saloon with Katie Scullin
Keeping a band running is the kind of effort only those who have done it can understand. While some believe a few hours of performance can’t possibly be the type of initiative worthy of career consideration, in reality it is the culmination of endless dedication. At times the sheer amount of time it takes conflicts with the creative side, crippling the very thing an artist set out to invent. Good reason to suggest that any band wanting to make a serious go of it should take on a manager. Lucas Cates probably knows this all too well. The driving force and namesake of the Lucas Cates Band has experienced local success and no doubt the backlash that inevitably comes along with it as those making half the effort attempt to pull the more popular musicians back down to their level.
Back to the Cocoon is a reflection on the last year-and-a-half in which the Lucas Cates Band split after nearly nine years of endless touring and five albums, with Cates regrouping and pursuing a career in nursing. Finding himself without a band or a romantic interest, Cates took the pressure off and wound back down to the essentials while creating a financial foundation which has allowed him to approach music again in a more organic sense.
Stylistically, Back to the Cocoon doesn’t part significantly from previous outings. The way the songs have been arranged and performed has matured, however. TLCB became increasingly edgy over time, preserving Cates’ foundation of acoustic guitar-driven compositions but adding layers of instrumental prowess and sheen. On Back to the Cocoon, Cates strips the sound down, exposing the roots and adding only measured amounts of toppings. The results still bubble with familiar energy, managing to adhere to his previous output.
Cates doesn’t break with his associates entirely either. Longtime musical companion Kenny Leiser (now with Mighty Wheelhouse) plays guitar on five of the recording’s twelve tracks and Jesse Warmka adds vocal harmonies on two. Joining the new group are guitarist Darren Marabelli (Katie Scullin Band), bassist Cody Davis and drummer extraordinaire Travis Drumm who has played in a variety of contexts including Orphan Bloom. Davis’ double bass, in particular, adds a fresh vibe to Cates’ groove.
Marabelli only contributes to one track on the recording but he has uncanny abilities to texturize. You can hear this effect on “Curveball,” one of the album’s best songs and one that sums up the changes that Cates has been working through recently. “Just another curveball / Just another change / Life is what you make it / Even when the pieces are strange / Even when the pieces have changed,” Cates sings over a really sweet acoustic guitar and double bass while Marabelli haunts the proceedings with muted picking. Cates is so true to himself here, embracing change while always looking for the silver lining.
Cates’ real stock in trade is the almighty groove, however and several of these songs percolate with his familiar funk and peppery vocal style. The new lineup allows more room to breathe. Andrew Traverse’s muted trumpet on opener “Silos” adds new colors to the palette while Travis’s drums have more sonic space to occupy, which drives the groove quite effectively. Here again the lyrics reflect the sense of isolation but do so with the perspective of growth and renewal.
Several of the songs also focus on relationships, or the lack thereof; some being directed at friendships and some at the romantic variety. Cates’ delivery has also matured with his rhythmic style veering into spoken delivery, veering toward hip-hop. “Ball & Chain” and Shades of Gray” demonstrate this while “Dirty Little Secrets” gets a bit more acerbic. Leiser adds some beautifully shimmering guitar to “Everybody Wants a Love Song,” a quaint and jazzy two-step with Drumm using brushes and Davis’ double bass sitting in a comfortable spot.
The final song, “Hand in Hand,” joins “Curveball” as the two best tracks though both are sentimental in nature. They mark a new direction for Cates, a passing of the torch from one era to the next, bringing along only the baggage that is worth toting. There is strength of character in these songs, one that gives hope and determination to survive, but on one’s own terms. As Cates walks back to his cocoon, he’s also emerged; stronger, more resilient and with a road clearly ahead of him. That music can communicate such insights is one of its mysteries and surely what will keep Lucas Cates plumbing its depths.