Thursday, June 29, 2023

The Cucumbers: “Old Shoes” (2023) CD Review

The Cucumbers are back with an album of new material, the band’s first in a mighty long time. I fell in love with this band in the early 1990s when I was working as a DJ at KWVA in Oregon. It was during that time that Where We Sleep Tonight was released, an album that got a good amount of airplay. Songs from that album ended up on several mix tapes that I made (and also mix CDs, a little later). It was another five years before the band released Total Vegitility, and another five again before All Things To You. After that, there were some singles and compilations, and there were solo albums including Deena’s Rock River, and there was the album they did as members of The Campfire Flies, but no new Cucumbers albums. Until now, nearly twenty years after All Things To You. Old Shoes, the new release has a somewhat different vibe from those earlier albums, with more of an acoustic sound, but with the great, honest and sometimes quirky songwriting that made the band so appealing in the first place. The band was founded by the duo of Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried, and on this album, they are joined by their son Jamie Fried on drums, and by Rick Wagner on bass. All the songs here were written or co-written by Deena Shoshkes.

This new release opens with “Gotta Start Somewhere,” and from the moment it starts, I am put in a fantastic mood. The rhythm of the guitar has a positive, cheerful sound, and of course Jon’s banjo adds to that feeling. Deena sings, “You’ve gotta start somewhere/And anywhere is everywhere.” Oh yes, the line “And anywhere is everywhere” is exactly what I expect and want from this band. “Singing is believing/And dreaming is sweetening.” This is an absolutely wonderful song. It is followed by the title track, “Old Shoes,” a sweet love song featuring some gentle work on banjo. The first lines make me laugh each time I listen to this track: “Some people let go of things/I would never do any such thing.” You’d think she might be referring to holding onto grudges, or to hoarding, that sort of thing. But no, this is much more positive than that. And check out these lyrics: “I don’t mind it if you take me for granted/In a certain way, it’s sort of romantic/‘Cause one of my great luxuries/Is counting on your company/So dependable and true/Just like a pair of old shoes.” And Jon joins her on the line, “Just like a pair of old shoes,” which is perfect, the pair delivering the line together. This song looks back fondly over the long relationship and finds joy in the present. These songs were worked up during the pandemic, when most of us were taking stock of our lives, taking a more serious look at our priorities and trying to get closer to those we love, and Deena’s vocals express a good deal of love. “We’ve been through all kinds of weather/Think of all the steps we’ve taken together/I may not be shiny and new/But I’m the one that fits you.”

“Keep On Doing What You Do” has a livelier vibe from the start, and is more of a rock number, though delivered on acoustic instruments. Near the beginning, Deena sings, “I made a big production/From my imagination/It’s what I do.” I am just so glad these guys share the things that come from their imagination with us. This song is fantastic, one of the band’s very best. “And when the night is over/And I don’t want it to be through/I’m keeping my door open/Oh, won’t you please keep on doing what you do.” Well, that there is what we ask of this band, to keep doing what they’re doing here. I certainly hope there will be more releases in the near future. “Keep On Doing What You Do” is followed by “Mr. Moon,” a delightful, playful, light number. This one was written by Deena Shoshkes and David Graham. There is a sweet innocence to this song, a sweet joy, especially heard in Deena’s adorable vocal delivery. “Mr. Moon Moon Moon Moon, even though you’re far away/I love, I love, I love it when you shine your light my way/And I ain’t saving up nothing for a rainy day/‘Cause you’re just the guy to take my blues away.” And there is a really good instrumental section halfway through the track, featuring some excellent work on banjo. This is another song that is certain to raise your spirits.

“Blue Guitar” has a good energy, yet also has a sweet aspect to it. Again, the music on this release is so positive, and in these strange days, it’s especially beneficial to have these songs. “When I play my blue guitar/When I dance from room to room/And everything goes shimmering/Dreaming of the night with you.” Then “Ready For You” mentions dancing too: “We’ll go across the river/We’ll go dancing in town.” And, truly, this music feels like a cheerful, carefree dance, and makes us feel like engaging in one, in twirling about the place, all smiles, all optimism. The album concludes with “I’m Over That.” Here Deena is looking back to a moment when she was angry, yet the tone of her voice tells us, even before she says it directly, that she’s over that. “You can be the way you are/If I’m not near, well then I’m far/Far away as I can be/And then I’ll just go and see somebody else/And if there’s nobody else/Well, I’ll just see myself.” And I love the way the second time through these lines, Jon echoes the word “far,” and then joins her on the words “somebody else” and “nobody else.” There is certainly something playful about that, particularly as the song has an overall soothing, relaxed vibe.

CD Track List

  1. Gotta Start Somewhere
  2. Old Shoes
  3. Keep On Doing What You Do
  4. Mr. Moon
  5. Blue Guitar
  6. Ready For You
  7. I’m Over That

Old Shoes is scheduled to be released on July 21, 2023, and will be available digitally.

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