Because Sly-Chi are so versatile, and can adopt any number of danceable skins, there can be a tendency to read their individual songs in great chunks, like sentences we've read a hundred times.
And because they are such a ubiquitous and talented live band, there's a tendency to see them in your head instead of hearing them in your ears: horns arced upright when playing, swaying side to side at rest; and since May 2006, Kelly McKenna wrapped around the mic.
But things are different now, and with new EP Seven in the Shadows the remaining Sly-Chi members are determined to move on following McKenna's departure, with four songwriters penning five songs that all sit between four and five minutes and show off their talents for jazz, R&B, funk, and Latin big-band music.
In fact, you might be fooled by the R&B slow burn of "I'll Never Stop Loving You." No, that's not a chick (even if it sounds an awful lot like Millie Jackson doing "If Loving You Is Wrong I Don't Wanna Be Right"). It's Brian Pierce. According to saxman Brian Graham, who wrote the piece, a turn as part of the Journey vs. Heart Clash of the Titans made it clear that Pierce was very comfortable singing high parts, so the band just started writing for him. Thus an androgynous bit where it's a little unclear who "would be nothing/Nothing without you." And Graham gets off the best baritone-sax solo I've heard in Portland in a long time.
It's matched by Jay Desormeau's guitar break on "Move This Way," a look-back anthem that threatens to be "one of those songs where a band plays a dance song and sings about dancing," but manages to infuse some resiliency and perspective into Tyler Stanley's heavy pop: "You gotta know that every note at every show ain't the same old, same old routine."
If there's one thing that's consistent about this EP it's an earnestness and lack of cynicism that makes the little girl's giggle the band uses as punctuation in Pierce's "The Light with a Smile" seem completely natural, and Rafael Keilt-Freyre's salsa-fueled "Con Corazon" uplifting rather than naive when it asks, "could it be enough if we just gave our love?" But that earnestness means not enough surprises: The songs are what I thought they'd be.
But this isn't a cerebral album, anyway. It's beside the point to talk about lyrics and who wrote what. This is a collection of songs for air-drumming to David Henault's cymbals, for cleaning the house to, for playing loud and getting silly. It's a ton of fun, and just a taste of what's to come.
SEVEN IN THE SHADOWS | Released by Sly-Chi | at the Big Easy, in Portland | Dec 19 |www.slychi.com