A classic rock-minded outfit with catchy songs, crisp production and a charismatic frontman leading the way with quirky vocals and infectious hooks? If Mellow Bravo were from Brooklyn, they might be called The Giraffes, but even so, the Bostonian six-piece show marked personality on their self-titled sophomore outing, sounding like mature players even if the band’s only been around for three years. Mellow Bravo’s Mellow Bravo was recorded and mixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios in Allston and is released via a new Small Stone imprint of the same name: Mad Oak Recordings. Much has been said of that label’s growing roster around these parts, but Mellow Bravo distinguish themselves by means of a style that borders on heavy rock without ever fully committing itself to the tropes of the genre. Roadsaw might be the closest comparison to another act – and there seems to be some relationship there since Roadsaw vocalist Craig Riggs owns Mad Oak and bassist Tim Catz co-directed Mellow Bravo’s video for the song “Where the Bodies Lay,” the second of the 11 tracks on the album – but what the two bands have in common is mostly geography, an affinity for structure and strong choruses; not a grouping limited to them alone. And perhaps it’s to Mellow Bravo’s credit that also one can hear shades of ZZ Top, Thin Lizzy, Guns ‘n’ Roses and others, none really emerges as a defining influence – that is, you don’t come out of listening to the album saying, “Mellow Bravo sounds like…” and then easily coming up with a name to fill that space – and the band sound like themselves most of all as a result. What they’re doing isn’t really original or trying to be, but they’re putting their stamp on the rock and roll ideologies that preceded them.
Manning the frontlines in Mellow Bravo is vocalist Keith Pierce, a gifted singer who comes across on the album like someone you’d want to see live, and able to be brash, as on “Where the Bodies Lay,” melodic, as on “Lioness” or even subdued, as on the Use Your Illusion II-informed album centerpiece, “Senorita.” His chemistry with keyboardist/vocalist Jess Collins results in an album highlight on the countrified later cut “Prairie Dog,” and though Collins’ moment at the fore – the “ooo-wee” laden “Ridin’” comes across as contrived in comparison to what’s around it; it’s probably the single dumbest feeling critique I’ve ever made, but I just didn’t believe her “ooo-wee” was sincere – the chorus remains effective. With a lineup filled out by guitarists Jeff Fultz (ex-Seemless) and Andrew Doherty, bassist/vocalist Seager Tennis and drummer Dave Jarvis, Mellow Bravo sounds as full as one might expect a piano-inclusive six-piece to sound, and the self-titled has a palpable flow and changes in mood that seem to come almost on a track-by-track basis, opening with a crisp (there’s that word again) trio of rockers in “Sad Sam,” “Where the Bodies Lay” and “Ridin’” before “When I’m in Pain” slows down the momentum – Tennis offering an engaging bass groove in the process – and begins a tug-of-war of energy that plays out in the back and forth of “Lioness,” “Senorita,” and the riffier mid-paced blues stomp of “Love Hammer,” which leads the way into the effectively rocked back end of the album, the later cuts affirming the unpretentious pop accessibility of the earlier ones without being redundant stylistically in the process. It continues to amaze me how a band like this can be so unabashedly accessible and remain – for lack of a better word – unaccessed. With the rampant commodification of popular music that’s seen every day in commercials, television, film – hell, even greeting cards play songs now – there has to be some room for a band like Mellow Bravo to cash in on what they’re already doing, which basically is that level of pop rock, just with louder drums.