Bridget Kearney's most lucrative gig is playing bass with the retro-soul band Lake Street Dive, and she's also shown she can make fine music with a personality of its own outside the context of the group. In 2017, Kearney cut a charming solo effort, Won't Let You Down, that revealed she was a fine vocalist, a songwriter with a talent for merging soul, pop, and rock idioms, and could handle guitar, keys, and lead vocals with the same confidence she brought to her bass playing. Kearney is also friends with Benjamin Lazar Davis, who has worked with Okkervil River and Joan as Police Woman and shares her passion for music from West Africa. In 2015, Kearney and Davis traveled to Ghana to record an EP, BAWA, and five years later the two returned to West Africa to make a full-length album, Still Flying. Cut using a makeshift recording setup, Kearney and Davis laid down the basic tracks in Ghana and added overdubs in the United States, and the result is a cross-cultural delight, mixing up African sounds with Western pop, dance, and electronic flavors. If Dirty Projectors confirmed you could blend indie rock and King Sunny Ade and make it work, on Still Flying Kearney and Davis take the idea and run with it, creating music that's adventurous and fun while bouncing back and forth between cool dance beats and the sinewy nexus of rhythm and melody that their collaborators from Ghana brought to the table. Still Flying features crucial contributions from two Ghanaian musicians of note, Stevo Atambire, an expert on the two-string instrument the kologo, and Aaron Bebe Sukura, who plays the gyil, a percussion instrument not unlike the xylophone. The cool surfaces of the keyboards, samples, and percussion loops and the warm, natural tone of Atambire's and Sukura's performances complement one another remarkably well. While this music often revels in the contrasts between the various elements, the mutual respect between the artists is clear, and Kearney, Davis, Atambire, and Sukura remind us that it may be a cliché that music is a universal language, but most clichés get to be that way because they're true, and that's absolutely the case here.
© Mark Deming /TiVo