I have to confess something to you. The reason I asked to review this CD and DVD set wasn’t because I knew about the band. It was because I like cats, and the band name is incredible. So I was dumbstruck to find out that Cats Laughing consists of genre authors Steven Brust, Emma Bull and Lojo Russo. Add Adam Stemple as “Musician Guest of Honor” along with group newbie Scott Keever, and you’ve got a talented group of folks. Sure you say; they Brust, Bull and Keever sure can write, but are they really musicians? YES THEY ARE. Damn fine ones, too. Anyone who enjoys folk-rock, roadhouse, or good ol’ Faire tunes will find their time well spent checking them out.
As my thoughts are fractured a bit, let’s break this down into three parts, shall we? I break down the music and performance, the CD, and then the DVD. Because while I adored the music itself, the CD and DVD had a few…well, let’s just dig in.
The music itself? Absolutely fantastic. Cats Laughing is quite simply fun as hell, and this is a helluva good set. The of their live performance comes through the speakers, and I immediately found myself wishing I’d been in the audience so I could get a straight shot of this stuff. I think I listened to the first song, “See How The Sparrow Flies” about ten times in a row the moment I cracked the CD open. Y’know, for science. It’s a fantastic barn-burner of a song, and a perfect way to start off their set. From Sparrow the launch into another bit of fun, “Black Knight’s Work”, something I’d love to hear the next time I’m nursing a pint of Snakebite at the Boar’s Head Tavern. A perfect cheer-em-on-with-your-mates kinda song. Their take on Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” lets Emma Bull and Lojo Russo get their psychedelic on, And “Bright Street Beachhouse Back In Business Blues” is a get up and dance number that wraps up the first CD on a high note. The second part of the set is a fine blend of songs, jams, performed just as beautifully as the first. “The Good Stuff” may be a fun song to listen to, but it’s also a perfect description of Cats Lauging as a whole.
Speaking of extended jams? There’s a professional musicality to ’em; they know where they’re taking things, and the ride’s a glorious trip. These riffs don’t overstay their welcome either. It’s a lovely blend of song proper and instrumental freestyle. Folks like me who hadn’t heard about Cats Laughing prior to this album will understand why this group has such a devoted following of fans. I’m now one of ’em.
CD: Cats Laughing may be a group best enjoyed live with a crew of your nearest and dearest to help cheer them on, but a live performance on CD ain’t bad either. There’s an obvious joy in their performance. Not only are they musicians worth a listen, but their lyrics are absolutely beautiful.
[More tale-telling on myself; I opened the CD and immediately put it into the player without looking at the liner notes. As the songs began, I was stunned at the lovely wordplay and they way they painted pictures in my mind…later, when I realized I was listening to authors? Made sense. But before that, I found myself thinking “hey, they’re so good with lyrics they should consider writing prose.” I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid.]
The only problem I had was an unevenness in the sound quality and editing. I understand that this is a homegrown Kickstarter joint that took off, but for musicians this talented and lyrics this lovely, I’d hoped for crisp, clear sounds. And it’s got a basic YouTube video quality that ain’t bad, but I yearned for better.
DVD: The issues I had with the CD seem to bleed into the DVD as well. Things are fine enough, but there’s a Overly bright lights that wash things out, then things shift into iffy color balance. Definitely not HD, probably not even 720p. 480p maybe? Gives it a slightly out-of-focus quality, as if the video was enlarged to zoom in, and couldn’t be sharpened enough to keep things clear without sacrificing video quality. Groovy negative-image and cool color-washes can’t hide it. I found myself looking away from time to time, just to give my eyes a break. Luckily the music is good. Really good.
Still, as with the CD, the music is well worth a listen. They throw down a mean set, there’s no question. Plus, the DVD lets you watch ‘em perform, and there’s mid-set banter that isn’t included in the CD.
In total? As fun, rowdy and irreverent as their performance at Minicon 50, I’d really love to see something polished and clear. This group deserves a really top-tier look at their musical work. May I suggest coming down to Maryland RenFest? (I know some people. Just sayin’… Please?) Til there’s a professional remastering of their stuff, I’ll just keep these CDs in the car player. Y’know, for safekeeping.