LUCAS CATES – Contradictory
(2006 PopBomb Records)
Since he’s only in his mid-twenties, Lucas Cates missed the original Schoolhouse Rock! series in the 70s, and he was probably too old by the time additional lessons like “The Tale of Mr. Morton” were added in the 90s. So why can’t I shake the feeling that his song “4Everytime” was inspired by that animated short that taught kids about subjects and predicates? Or even more likely, it could have been the cover of it by rapper Skee-Lo on Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks. It could be the similar storyline (lonely man finds true love) but maybe it is simply that “4Everytime” has the kind of bouncy, infectious melody and memorable lyrics that made Schoolhouse Rock! a touchstone for an entire generation.
His tale of a hermit who becomes a hero is just one of several ridiculously catchy songs on Contradictory; the title track, as well as “We May Fall,” traffic in the same kind of smooth-flowing bounce that vaulted Jack Johnson to stardom. The former boasts a sing-songy chant that debates both the half-full/half-empty and the chicken/egg controversies (bonus points for using the made-up word unexpectancy), while the latter contains the clever line “Rock it like a pirate / Standing on a wooden leg.” Another standout, “Might Sound Strange” possesses the same simple charm that made the Push Stars’ “Everything Shines” so addictive.
Fans of Madison’s Profits should be flocking to Cates. Not only is he better looking (at least in my opinion), but for the most part his songs are smarter, steering clear of the cringe-inducing lyrics and side-stepping clichés. Only on “Safe to Say” does he wander into the tired, “body-as-a-wonderland” territory. The only other misstep may be the Disney-character morality play of “That’s That.” It comes off a bit heavy-handed, not to mention unsettling, with its final image of a selfish Thumper bleeding and dead while Bambi is spared.
Credit for the slick production on this debut goes to veteran producer/musician Robert J. Conaway who discovered Cates at an open mike night. Not only did Conaway provide the production skills, and his own label to release it, he also brought in an impressive roster of guests (fellow Moon Gypsies Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines and Gomer Dave Adler to name a few). As the decidedly senior member of the band, Conaway joins Cates’s high school friends, Britton Rice on drums and Matt Rogers on bass. His bluesy electric guitar solos bring to mind Carlos Santana, especially his most recent work with younger artists. I guess that makes Cates the parallel-universe Rob Thomas; it’s probably only a matter of time before he writes his own version of “Smooth,” a perfect pop song.