I have always liked The Strands. I have been following this La Westside jazz-but-much-more band for over 2 years now and often turn to their music when I want to do a little writing or just kick back like I am strolling Main Street at Disneyland in the twilight. Amada Campbell and her crew know how to set a smooth, pleasure-infused mood, but with a bit of a lyrical edge to it. Being British, she can’t go completely southern California– there is always a bit of London fog in her songs.
As good as The Strands albums are – especially their most recent release, Freshly Cut – it is their live appearances that are must-see events, especially when they open for classic bands like The Spinners, which they did in February at the Saben Theater in Beverly Hills. But whether it is at a grand venue like the Saben, or the local jazz/rock spot The Trip, where I saw them last week, they are magicians at creating not just music, but an environment. Amanda’s voice manages to be both glass smooth and life-experienced rough at the same time. Her songs and delivery wrap you in London fog but infused it with silver from a mackerel moon and a little gold from a gaslamp. It is as if she creates Midnight in Paris, but in London, wherever she sings.
The performance at The Trip did that beautifully, even though almost every table was full of happy — and sometimes chatty — people, folks who came and went through the front door next to the stage, and sonic competition from the bar. It all went away when lead guitarist Richard Green, bassist and Strands founder Paul Campbell, drummer Lance Tamanaha, and keyboardist Emily Ashenfelter began playing elegant, restrained, genre-defying rhythms and melodies transporting Amanda’s cinematic lyrics, enhanced with a backup singer, Ruby M. You feel like you are in a movie love scene where everything except the object of your desire fades into silence. Not easy, but The Strands do it.
The transformation was carried through 13 songs, drawn from their three albums, plus a couple of new songs. Three tunes came from their 2015 album, Entanglement including their emblematic “Love Is On the Line” and the mesmerizing “Flying”. Amanda delivered songs from the new Freshly Cut album like “The Time is Right for Love” and “Same Old Dream”, and from the Rough Out There album including one of my favorite, “Hollywood Hills”. The new songs we were treated to were “Pushing Me Away” and “Mother Nature”, both delivered with Campbell’s magic touch..
The Strands were formed in 2011 and played live gigs for four years before going into the studio to produce Entanglements. During that time, they developed their signature sound, which they call Artisanal – carefully curated, precisely pitched and totally unique and hypnotic. They are tight, professional, entertaining – everything a top band should be. Which is why I call them underrated. They can carry off an intimate venue like the trip, a bigger one like Hotel Café, or a full-scale hall like the Saban Theater. And they do it with grace, humor, and music that is all their own.
If you get a chance to see them live, by all means, do so. Sit back and enjoy a bit of sonically luminescent London fog and golden gaslamp lyrics.