Australia's the Cat Empire have become a buzz band with the Bonnaroo cognoscenti thanks to its lively mix of reggae, jazz and world-music influences.
Yet, for all of the rhythmic blending, and a reputation as a live act that can turn any hall into a sweatbox, the group's music, on disc at least, is pure pop accessibility. And it's these twin ambitions -- global grooves and instant hooks -- that make the band's latest studio album, Cinema, so winning.
The six-piece outfit, supplemented by a horn section, doesn't do lots of jamming, even though these guys -- especially keyboardist Oliver McGill and trumpeter/vocalist Harry Angus -- have the chops to do it. Instead, they shoehorn their considerable skills into a pop-song format, turning a track like Falling into four minutes of increasingly frenetic Latinized funk topped off by Angus' wailing trumpet.
In fact, if the Cat Empire's albums have had an overarching personality -- reggae/ska on The Cat Empire, Latin on Two Shoes, rock on So Many Nights -- Cinema leans more toward the blissfully soulful. Even Angus' usually strained vocals (he shares singing duties with more suave frontman Felix Riebl) are more melodic and tuneful this time around.
The constant that runs through all their work though is a sense of giddy, good-time fun. Such tracks as Shoulders, Coming Home, On My Way and The Heart Is a Cannibal radiate pleasure. It's a little odd then that the band isn't better known, even if commercial radio doesn't play music like this anymore.
But let's not rain on the group's colorful, multiculti parade. It's always summer in the Cat Empire and the sun never sets.
Cary Darling, 817-390-7571