Rum and Coca Cola / Green Door
by Les Shelleys on FatCat Records
Les Shelleys are an acoustic guitar/vocal duo from Los Angeles, consisting of FatCat’s folk asset Tom Brosseau and his singing partner Angela Correa, better known as the indie-pop singer/songwriter Correatown. This, their debut release together, is an AA digital only single to precede their self-titled album, a collection of tracks taken from a vast body of recorded works – beautiful, harmony-heavy voice and guitar arrangements of American standards and folk traditionals from various points of the last century.
Introduced and encouraged in 2002 by California-based songwriter/film-maker Gregory Page, Brosseau and Correa began with a repertoire of Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Sister Tharpe, and gave themselves a few months to explore vocal ranges, harmonic combinations and how best to tread a path taken by several decades of musicians before them. There is an undeniable timelessness to Tom and Angela’s work here – something we have seen before in Tom Brosseau’s FatCat releases under his own name (three full length albums and a handful of singles) – a gracious and praising nod to the frankness and honesty of the great folk songwriters whose work they recount, and yet their work together does not sound like a simple “reissue from the vaults” or conventional covers collection.
The “Americanised calypso” popularised by the Andrews Sisters ‘Rum and Coca Cola’ here is dulcet like a lullaby, but swaying like its tropical origins. Tom begins, acoustic guitar and his flooring singing voice wrapped around the gorgeous melody, before Angela joins for the chorus and the pair tap gently together as their two voices harmonise sweetly.
‘Green Door’, originally written by Bob Davie and Marvin Moore in 1956, and covered by (among others) Shakin’ Stevens and The Cramps, is entirely a capella under Les Shelleys’ direction. Tom and Angela allow a focus on the purity and sweetness of their intermixed voices. Tapping into those inherently romantic and tender qualities of vocal harmonies that serve pop and folk music so well, an instantly likeable, charming personality is given to a time-tested composition.
Incredibly, these tracks (along with the rest of the album) were recorded by Tom and Angela in the former’s LA villa using a minidisc recorder and a battery-powered microphone set up on the kitchen table. The results are a close, intimate set of recordings that bring the listener into that kitchen – as Tom writes, standing “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Les Shelleys, “breathing the same air of the room”.
The album features tracks selected from the widest range of composers and trad pieces, from 1930’s-40’s hydroplane racer-turned-bandleader Guy Lombardo to Dylan to Tin Pan Alley jazz composer Peter DeRose - Les Shelleys are as historically well-informed as they are musically capable and accomplished. Tracks regularly reach sublime peaks of gorgeous vocal interlocking and of beautiful playing rallied by tiny snippets of background noise captured by the single microphone in a room with windows and doors open, – floorboards creaking, distant dogs barking – lending a hopelessly affectionate and personal idiosyncrasy.