Yes, the name is a bit odd – but apparently it comes from a hometown road with a history of larceny. The Boston-based Gretchen and the Pickpockets have a horn-infused sound they describe as “Soul/Jazz/Rock.” The six-piece unit sounds somewhere between Lake Street Dive and a swinging horn band like that of MarchFourth that leans toward jazz. \Gretchen and the PP have a unique sound with many shifting genres and dynamics that set them apart. One of their clear strengths is their unpredictability.
The band features heavy horn lines and some rather unconventional improvisation. Siblings Gretchen (vocals) and Mike Klempa (bass) started the band. Ryan O’Connell (trumpet/guitar), Tom O’Connell (drums), Richie Smith (guitar), and Diego Tunjano (saxophone) round out the unit. They are augmented here on nine tracks by a three-piece horn section, featuring two trombones and a trumpet, thus the heavy horn sound. To fully appreciate Gretchen’s ringing vocals, listen to her astounding range and ability to expressively wail on “Love You Forever,”“Fall Into You” or “Back and Forth,” among others. When the horns are in full throttle behind her pipes, the effect is a stunning wall of sound.
The album, two years in the making, represents a breakout effort for an award-winning band that’s become a popular live act regionally for the past seven years. Tour dates this summer have the band playing throughout New York, New England, the Mid-Atlantic, as well as some southern cities.
These are ten original songs recorded in Boston with engineering by Dan Cardinal (Darlingside, Ballroom Thieves) and mastering by Grammy-nominated Emily Lazar (Foo Fighters). “Working with Dan Cardinal at Dimension Sounds Studios was truly a dream,” says Gretchen about the recording sessions. “Being able to take ideas for sounds and textures we’ve had in our heads and give them life through recording is an incredibly difficult yet rewarding endeavor.” Brother Mike adds, “We decided as a group to track as much of the music as we could live, together, and in full takes so that the listener can hear the communication, emotion, and exchange of ideas that happens between us. So much of our music is based on jazz — we love incorporating improvisation and flexibility of interpretation. We even recorded some upright bass on this album on songs like ‘Back and Forth’ and ‘Devil’s Due’ for a warm, booming, and intimate feel.”
Interestingly, the band benefitted from some immensely kind gestures in making the record. They won a grant from the iconic Club Passim in Cambridge, MA and were given the opportunity to track the horn section for free at Converse (the shoe brand) Rubber Track Studios in Boston.
That day too was unique. As Mike recounts, “The day we went in to the studio was the day right after the 2016 presidential election. It was a day that began with such excitement but was met with such caution and tension. The air was thick with unease. And yet, as soon as……I raised my hands to conduct the horn section, we put all our thoughts and fears aside and just made something happen. And from that fear came something that we were really proud of; it ended up being such a beautiful experience.” Bask in the glorious sounds of Gretchen and the Pickpockets. They are a refreshing, rewarding departure from much of the predictable horn band fare.
- Jim Hynes