Lake Street Dive, a Brooklyn-based four-piece emerging from the jazzy enclaves of New England College of Music, was originally conceived as a pop side-project. With an unusual lineup including vocalist Rachael Price, upright bassist Bridget Kearney, trumpet/guitar player Mike Olson and drummer Mike Calabrese, the band was named after a street of dive bars in Minneapolis. And Lake Street Dive first gained a reputation for that same kind of relentless energy that a band needs to hold a rowdy bar crowd’s attention. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate on Bad Self Portraits like it does on the band’s 2011 live album, Live at the Lizard Lounge.
Bad Self Portraits, just Lake Street Dive’s second LP of studio material, showcases the band’s diverse musical talents and influences. Soulful ballads (“Just Ask”) and stomping, swinging tracks (“You Go Down Smooth”) both stand their ground here. All four members contribute to the songwriting process, which helps create a unified sound, but Price’s powerhouse singing unites this record. She switches from throaty growls to perfectly-wavering soprano warbles, effortlessly channeling matriarchs like Etta James and even Big Mama Thornton. Still, the band’s multiple harmonies and call-and-response on “Seventeen” and ”Stop Your Crying” remind listeners that Lake Street Dive is a group effort and that its core is powerfully impressive, even if this collection of songs is wrapped up in an unnecessarily over-produced package.