Saint Bernadette : In The Ballroom

Saint Bernadette’s debut, In The Ballroom, dropped way back last November, a fact lost on MOKB’s readers due to the fact that my review copy was buried beneath six months of padded envelopes, one-sheeters, magazines and bank statements. The record was unearthed during a recent attempt at “cleaning” my admittedly untidy digs and I’ll be damned if Saint Bernadette’s retro-flavored rock/rhythm-n-blues menagerie isn’t getting me through the coldest week of the winter.

On your initial trip through In The Ballroom, all you notice is Meredith Dimenna, a back-alley chanteuse committed to getting what she wants via enticement, or if necessary, menace. Hers is a dialect of purrs, sighs, sneers and growls. It is all too easy to imagine her spinning her tales of lust, betrayal and deception across the desk from a soft-headed private dick who is distracted by her gams. If you’ve ever wished Gentleman was recorded from a female perspective, your wait is over.

However, as much as you can’t help but love Ms. Dimenna’s ability, she often diverts attention from the group’s male protagonist, guitarist Keith Saunders. Saunders has great chops, but moreover he reveals the all too uncommon ability of playing exactly (and only) what the song demands. Like a scholar of the sweet science, he dissects, carefully choosing his spots and ensuring that Ms. Dimenna is left with plenty of room to operate. His serpentine slide and lap steel playing is certainly praiseworthy, and rest assured, Saunders flat out rips when the time is right. Side B (yes, they labeled them sides) of In The Ballroom is particularly thrilling as Saunders and the band pushes aside smoky atmospherics and cuts loose on songs like Lay Me Down and No Dreams.

In The Ballroom is a great listen, but to truly appreciate this record, you should know the backstory. The ballroom of the title is Bridgeport, Connecticut’s historic Bijou Theater, which the band procured for five days in June of 2006 and is featured prominently in their video for Pieces. Allowing a day each for load in and load out, recording was accomplished in a live three day session with minimal overdubbing; a manageable schedule for a solo act or blues-rock duo, but nearly unthinkable for a sextet, especially given Saint Bernadette’s flair for the dramatic. Of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt that the record was mixed by Peter Katis, a fellow who has honed his craft on records by Clem Snide, Interpol and The Twilight Sad. Incidentally, his work on In The Ballroom was delayed due to the fact that he was earning the triple crown (engineer, producer and mixer) on that record the kids liked so much last year, The National’s Boxer.

If you’re a fan of femme fatales and below-the-belt rock (and really, who isn’t?), Saint Bernadette is definitely worth your attention. I’m also going to go out on a limb and say if new song Love Is A Stranger (now on MySpace along with videos for Pieces and Sidestep) is any indication, you’ll be clamoring for the I Want To Tell You Something… EP when it hits the streets on March 4th.

Saint Bernadette – Sidestep
Saint Bernadette – Lay Me Down

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