In 2012, Lake Street Dive released “Fun Machine,” a brief collection of six covers, including hits like “I Want You Back” and “Rich Girl.” It was their third commercial release, following an eponymous album and a live recording from the Lizard Lounge.
Now, 10 years and four studio albums later, they’ve gone back to their roots for “Fun Machine: The Sequel.” Another set of six covers, the sequel EP features songs the band could have covered in their early days, including the works of Carole King, Shania Twain and The Cranberries.
The album begins with the Pointer Sisters’ “Automatic.” Compared to the original, it tones down the disco but keeps the groove. It creates a dense texture without feeling too busy, with punchy drums and bass.
A funky electric piano plays a consistent harmony during the verses, while the drums keep a strong backbeat, filling in the spaces between the piano. Full background vocals and auxiliary percussion fill out the sound nicely.
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The EP continues with Dionne Warwick’s “Anyone Who Had a Heart.” The original, mid-tempo ballad is only loosely imitated here. It’s faster and more complex, adding a lighter feeling to the heartfelt lyrics without detracting from their emotional impact.
The 6/4 time signature creates a lilting groove. This is reflected in the piano, which intermittently hammers a dissonant half-step, and the drums, which keep things rather busy, creating a choppy beat. Ethereal backing vocals contrast, adding space to the congested sound.
Up next is “You’re Still The One” by Shania Twain. Perhaps the greatest departure from the original, Lake Street Dive transforms the country-pop anthem into a soulful R&B serenade. The band’s typical lead singer, Rachael Price, takes a backseat on this tune, allowing their keyboardist, Akie Bermiss, a chance to shine, and shine he does with gorgeous, expressive vocals.
The instrumentals keep things relatively simple here, which works to the song’s strengths. The laid-back, behind-the-beat groove allows Bermiss’ vocals to stand out while a slippery guitar solo enhances the song’s middle section. It builds gradually and subtly throughout, never pushing into intensity but still oozing with feeling.
Carole King’s “So Far Away” follows this example, staying light in the instrumentals and allowing the vocalist space to breathe. Price takes back over, exploring this space magnificently and expertly finding her own path through it.
Returning to the band’s typical busy sound is “Nick of Time” by Bonnie Raitt. This rendition doesn’t take too many liberties from the source material. Raitt’s sound fits in Lake Street Dive’s wheelhouse nicely, and they only felt the need to add a few embellishments to the track.
The soft electric piano and humming background vocals give the song a warm and comfortable texture. Price soars over it, coalescing with the other singers at just the right intervals. The pieces fit together perfectly, creating a deep groove.
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Finally, the album comes to “Linger” by The Cranberries. This track features the most complex rhythmic patterns of the whole album, with busy drums and a tambourine driving the beat. Stabs from background pianos, both electric and acoustic, create space in the texture and contrast nicely with the percussion.
The vocals on “Linger” are another feat of musicianship. Price leads the song with her signature brassy tone, using melodic rhythms that seem at times improvised, but the backing vocals keep up with her effortlessly. This song ought to eliminate any doubt as to the skill and mutual understanding present in the ensemble.
At just 23 minutes, “Fun Machine: The Sequel” is a bite-sized burst of concentrated quality. Lake Street Dive doesn’t just co-opt these songs, they enhance each in their own way. They align their own strengths as a band with the highlights of these tunes, allowing them to shine in a new, unpredictable way. Although this sequel comes 10 years after the original, the group still sounds fresh and energetic, handling this material with extreme grace.