album reviews

The Cat Empire
Two Shoes
Velour Recordings (2007)

It's nearly impossible to listen to the Cat Empire's second album (and U.S. debut), "Two Shoes," while sitting still: The Australian sextet rocks such a hip-shaking blend of jazz, soul, reggae and funk that the album sounds more like a live performance than something created in a studio. That's due in large part to their recording setting and choice of producer -- Cuba's Egrem Studios and Jerry Boys, respectively -- both responsible for 1997's "Buena Vista Social Club."

That environment is apparent on "Two Shoes" and plays a large part on such songs as "Sol y Sombra," with its jazz piano centerpiece and salsa flair. But even with that influence as a foundation, the Cat Empire showcases its carefree, fun-loving spirit more than any musical style, from turntable scratching ("Party Started") to a lyrical listing of subatomic particles ("Protons, Neutrons, Electrons") that sounds like a sultry come-on.

Much of the Cat Empire's charm lies in vocalist Felix Riebl's delivery. The lyrics of album-opening "Sly" read like lewd gawking, but the pickup line "It's a pleasure to meet ya / Ya look like one incredible creature!" has a high probability of success with Riebl's joyful yelp. Peppered with the urgency of razor-sharp horn vignettes, the song is a seductive, feel-good dance track and, like the rest of "Two Shoes," a lighthearted soundtrack to chasing away the winter blues.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 9 February 2007, Page WE09
.: Two Shoes on