Boss Ladies is back! Each article in this series is written by a member about a member. This week, Jules Stewart reviews Baggage Claim, the latest release from Tori Roze and the Hot Mess.
San Diego band Tori Roze and the Hot Mess have been playing and recording music together for over a decade, and it shows. Their latest album, Baggage Claim (July 2018), oozes with the fluidity and cohesiveness only veteran bands can nail down. The attention to detail throughout the album is mind-boggling; instrumentation and sounds change significantly from start to finish and song structure perfectly suits each track as genres bend and melt together. Not once did it feel like an instrument or lyric was out of place. That is a stunning accomplishment for any ensemble to pull off, but for this talented six-piece act, it speaks to their unified, selfless pursuit of serving the music.
With a heavy groove from the jump, “Trust Love” sets the tone for the album. I love that even with a wide array of available sounds, the band chooses restraint and starts with the “good bones” house flippers on those home renovation shows always look for: special guest Tim “Figgster” Newton on drums and Harley Magsino on bass lay down a solid spine that gradually gets built upon as the song progresses. The backing vocals (tracked by both Tori and her mom, Lee Clark) bring layers on layers of depth, effectively setting my expectations sky-high for the rest of the album.
The sultry bossa nova feel of “Show Me” matches the open seduction of the lyrics, but there’s so much more to it. Rather than sticking to a mellow bossa groove, somehow the band gets to lay down fire without distracting from the heart of the song, a feat that is spectacularly hard to do well. Oh there’s a tasteful, jazzy flute solo? You win, officially. As a drummer, I’m taking notes on uncompromising feel from special guest Julien Cantelm.
“Ride The Wave” settles into the most relaxed moment of the album while somehow gaining emotional momentum. The arrangement doesn’t overcomplicate the point; stripped instrumentation lets the listener focus on the message, which I hear as a much-needed call to loosen the heck up and let life move as it will. I was impressed with Tori's voice in the previous two tracks, but this is where I started to fall in love. Gorgeous guitar (from John Alexander) compliments the vocals and provides a lazy river for the listener to float down. Oh tremolo, take me home.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced a moment of indecision that feels like the weight of the world rests on it. “Oh Lord, Please” is a plea for a little wisdom in that moment, and as the band comes in, I get all the guidance I need. The arrangement is particularly intentional and powerful here and the breakdown section makes me want to lean farther into my headphones.
“Slow Down” is a super-smooth flex of the diversity, instrumentation, and raw groove of this band. The bridge is smoother than Marvin Gaye, each dynamic swell toying with my emotions.
“Irish Coffee” hits hard with a definite and surprising nod to reggae but with a heavy dose of jazz’s more complex melodic structure. Rhythmic stops give breathing room to the vocals, which are impressive and powerful in moments but relaxed and fluid in others. Killer brass from Jordan Morita (trombone) provides an unpredictable and delightful blending of genres.
Watch out, jazz cats. In “My Life,” the repeating theme of sabotaging a boldy self-built life hits home among odd time signatures accented by drummer Charles Weller and non-standard chord progressions. I’m usually not blown away musically and emotionally connected to a song at the same time. How did you do that? Really, how? Listen, I didn’t think I was signing up for a therapy session right now, but “can’t live in my past if this gonna last” gives me a little dose of conviction in “Hiccup.” Hit me with a trombone solo and I’m pretty much crying. I’ve been on a healing journey through this song, and as a note to my exes, “I’ll forgive you when you forgive me.”
When “Just Say No” starts, I can just hear the sound of DJs everywhere hustling to snag the opening groove. This song might have the most infectiously catchy horn line since “Superstition.” When that screaming flute run pulls the song into another key/dimension/universe, I just about lose my mind. In the end, I like a good best friend song...or a good “I’m in love with you but don’t realize it” song, whichever.
Finally, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” made me stop what I was doing. As a native Seattleite who (shhhhh, don’t tell anyone) isn’t crazy about Nirvana, I might be now. This cover does justice to the original while giving a completely new life to the song. I like the original more now because this cover made me appreciate the value of the song by framing it in a groovy, full, refreshing context. Guest drummer Rashaad Graham really drives the bus home. All my friends that hated me because I didn’t like Nirvana are saying thank you.
My head didn’t stop bobbing once while listening to this album. It’s a masterpiece of groove, heart, and stank, start to finish. Featuring a host of guest musicians in addition to the ultra-talented band, these tracks are a collaborative labor of love. To nobody’s surprise, Baggage Claim was nominated for Best Pop Album at the 2019 San Diego Music Awards. You’re going to want to check this out.
Find Baggage Claim:
iTunes - Amazon - Spotify
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