Li'l Mo & the Monicats,
Whole Lotta Lovin'
(Passin Fancy, 2012)

The music of Li'l Mo & the Monicats, based in New York City, hovers in the memory space occupied by the 1950s through 1963 -- in other words afloat a pre-Beatles vision of American pop. Anybody who grew up listening to this sort of thing on AM radio may swear that he or she has heard these songs before, even when they're originals composed not all that long ago. On Whole Lotta Lovin', a mix of new and old, only the often-recorded Richard M. Jones blues-pop standard "Trouble in Mind" (written in the 1920s) is familiar. The other period cover, the novelty tune "Three Cool Cats," must be among the most obscure of all Leiber-Stoller songs.

When not on stage or in the studio Li'l Mo is Monica Passin, who has a voice that is beautiful, funny, mournful and sexy, sometimes in an understated Wanda Jackson vein, otherwise like the lead singer in something like the Angels or the Chiffons. You may think of her a pop classicist on the order of Big Sandy (of Big Sandy & the Fly-Rite Boys). On the other hand, Big Sandy is mostly a rock 'n' roller, and Li'l Mo mostly isn't. True, the charming title song is rockabilly, but of an easy-going, melodic kind that doesn't call for you to dance your socks off. The Everly Brothers come to mind; the melody is smooth, the harmonies hillbilly-inflected. The same can be said for the second cut, another original, "Little Heart Attacks," where producer Hank Bones's electric guitar is more punctuation than punch.

Recorded in Asheville, N.C., Lovin' bops along at unhurried pace rarely heard in pop music in recent decades. Still, it isn't note-for-note revivalism. She and Bones go for a nicely minimalist sound, with lots of acoustic instruments and toned-down percussion. Listen to the girl-groupish "Lovely Miranda" -- likely to be just about every listener's favorite cut -- and you hear pop music that's not only pre-Beatles but pre-Phil Spector. It's sufficient to make you wonder if Spector's studio gifts haven't been wildly overrated.

Li'l Mo & the Monicats -- what a plain old friendly name for a band -- aren't pushing anything but basic tuneful music, with no grander ambition than to provide the sort of pleasure that perfect pop songs afford, most of all (at least in my own happy memory) in a moving Chevy on a Friday night.

music review by
Jerome Clark

30 June 2012

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new