With only Ben-Folds-de-la-femme piano, clean vocal, and tambourine, opener “Spotlight” is pure and likeable; a quiet vignette before we’re launched into syncopated, full-band disco rock.
On “Paranoid,” the band flexes their arrangement chops, offering tricky rhythms in the vocal. Akin to female-fronted bands like Letters to Cleo or the Cardigans, the Cuddies cleverly twist the unexpected into four-on-the-floor fun.
Track three, “Obvious,” lays back, featuring horn flourishes atop Elton John-like pomp as Rodriguez cutely laments the day-to-day trials of romance. She plays the cute card throughout, and frankly, it works. But it’s worth noting she is the band’s songwriter, arranger, pianist, guitarist and bassist, an impressive and rare combo.
“Fix It Myself” delves into more daring, albeit unnecessary vocal production, skipping along until the breakdown where we catch the upper limits of Rodriguez’ vocal range. Guitarist Adam Astrup throws down a proper solo here too, bridging the tune’s full-on musical theater arc.
The bare piano balladry and melodic intervals of “Coal” are a real success. Great horn arrangements and a nimble time signature shift into a dream-like waltz bring out the band’s diverse sensibilities.
Fan favorite “I Believed” packs a bluesy punch (complete with an f-bomb at the horn-stabbed climax), but while fun and memorable, without the beers and cheers live, it’s inferior to the more authentic ballads, such as the delicate and dark “Premonitions.”
“Premonitions,” which could be the album’s closer, brings out Rodriguez’ inner Minnie Riperton and features the most compelling songwriting on the album. With only a daring, linear melody and her own beautiful acoustic guitar arrangement, The Cuddies’ front woman shows her true, intimate colors.
As The Cuddies come from theatrical stock, or the UNC Jazz program anyway, they choose to close the album with a crowd pleaser: a minor key twist on Grease’s “You Are The One That I Want,” and it does the trick to give fans their fix.