Being in the school band used to mean playing lame arrangements of even lamer songs with a burned-out instructor who can't understand why kids don't like Paul Anka. My, how times have changed. Cabot, Vermont's The Limes are a high school band under the guidance of a far more progressive music teacher, trumpeter Brian Boyes. Instead of performing starchy jazz or rock-lite, The Limes deliver sultry funk and pop-soul.
The 15-member ensemble sounds like its members have spent years on the club circuit. All the tracks on this debut disc, Best of the Zest, are Limes/Boyes originals, with the exception of Bobby Hebb's "Sunny," and the moody George Gershwin standard "Summertime."
"Far From Sane" kicks things off with class, no pun intended. With its steamy horn lines and hooky chorus, the song lays like a lost cut from a '60s Motown girl group. The vocals by Hannah Pitkin are shockingly good; she's a Diana Ross in the making.
"Lowdown" is a razor-sharp funk cut reminiscent of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." Everything sounds hip, from the whip-smart arrangement to drummer Andy Feltus' in-the-pocket grooves.
The Limes' authentic sound comes from their choice of instrumentation. Vintage keyboards such as the Hammond B-3 and clavinet give the music a deliciously old-school feel. The six-piece horn section provides plenty of color and punch.
"Summertime" has been covered zillions of times, by artists ranging from Billie Holliday to Me First & the Gimmie Gimmies. The Limes put the heat on simmer, turning in a respectful version with understated horn shouts and lock-step rhythms.
Their take on "Sunny" is funky fun, with chiming vibraphone running alongside clavinet vamps and a steamy disco backbeat. Pitkin makes the song her own, with hearty melodic dips and dives. Someone get this diva a pair of platform shoes.
"Scream and Cry" is another original with vintage pop shimmy and soulful shake, while album closer "Shelter" combines the locomotion of groove-rock with the bounce of ska.
It's hard to imagine that musicians who only recently earned their drivers' licenses have made such a mature-sounding record. Best of the Zest should be handed out to educators nationwide as an example of quality music education. Kudos to Boyes for understanding that if you give kids the chance to shine, they'll rarely disappoint you.