The enlightened cocktail soundtrack of Thomas Lauderdale and friends delivers on the breathless adoration the band has received from our country’s highest tastemakers (The New Yorker and The New York Times have both sounded genuinely annoyed that the Portland-based act doesn’t visit NYC more regularly). It’s both smart and note perfect, interesting while utterly resistant to pandering to its popular audience—save for one solitary blemish.
The album’s title track, a tale of a rejected flirtation, is the album’s most disappointing moment. “Hey Eugene” delivers soft rock flourishes that are both treacly and ham-fisted, the lyrics alternately dullish and awkward. Fittingly, the song feels dated (it’s been a staple of the band’s live set for years) and renders Forbes’ otherwise untouchable allure pitiable, much like a childlike heroine uncomfortably matured. But on the rest of Hey Eugene!, the troupe plucks its way with taste and delicacy through Disneyfied Latin rhythms, cabaret Orientalia and Arabic tunes kissed with carnival atmospherics and ragtime horns.
It’s not so much diverse as all-encompassing, a joyous display of idiomatic facilities that channel multi-ethnic inspirations as smoothly as vocalist China Forbes changes tongues. The English numbers aren’t even immediately noticeable as such, but there’s an especial seriousness paid to those songs the hometown crowd can sing along to: The unalloyed positivity of “Everywhere,” for instance, manages to unironcially resemble a Brechtian ballad while “Dosvedanya Mio Bombino” illustrates a delightful world of cosmopolitanism—all samovars and Roman holidays and faraway places with strange-sounding names. And “Tea for Two,” a duet with Jimmy Scott, miraculously ennobles the jazz legend while highlighting Forbes’ unaffected modernity.
It’s a timeless dream Pink Martini conveys, one that endures through Hey Eugene!, though the title track does prove that some fantasies should not be allowed to age.
Pink Martini celebrates the release of Hey Eugene! with the Harvey Rosencrantz Orchestra, MarchFourth Marching Band and the David York Ensemble Tuesday, May 15, and Wednesday, May 16, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. 8 pm. $27.50-$72.50. All ages.