Even with a Britney song, the second album should wipe away any novelty still attached to the hip revisionist trio, led by former Suburbs and Semisonic members.
More or less founded on pure music fandom, the New Standards usually choose the songs they cover/reinvent from the members' own vast record collections. Hence the Bowie, Beck and Replacements songs on their first album, and the Clash, Velvet Underground and Yeah Yeah Yeahs tracks on the new follow-up disc.
Thus, one question begged to be asked: How did Britney Spears' "Toxic" also wind up on the Standards' second CD, "Rock and Roll," which they're issuing in time for their third annual holiday show Saturday at the Fitzgerald Theater?
"It was on a mix tape my wife had," Chan Poling explained.
Ah, sure, it's always the wife who gets blamed for the cheesy pop in the house.
Talking at the trio's rehearsal space in northeast Minneapolis last Friday, Poling at least offered a can't-make-this-up story that backed his claim. It involved the Prior Lake farm he shares with his wife, WCCO radio host Eleanor Mondale (whose former-vice president dad has been spotted at gigs).
"The tape came from these teenage girls who do fashion shows in our barn. They literally do the fashion walk down the aisle between the horses. So I heard the song that way and realized it's actually a very cool song."
Finding the core coolness of a tune -- whether it's Bowie, Beck or Britney -- is what the New Standards are all about. The trio was formed three years ago when then-casual acquaintances Semisonic/Trip Shakespeare bassist John Munson and former Suburbs co-leader Poling met one afternoon at the farm. Munson brought his standup acoustic bass. Poling already had a piano in the living room. Between them was an endless list of songs.
"And the coolest thing was, that really was it," Poling remembered. "There was no heavy lifting."
Added Munson, "The acoustic quality of it from that first day was really important to us -- the ability to play stripped-down and be expressive, to play in a way you can hear the nuance of the songs."
The duo helped flesh out those nuances with the addition of Steve Roehm, a former Billygoat drummer who had mastered the vibraphone. Roehm's ethereal vibes perfectly balance out the trio's naked sound, adding a warm layer of rhythm and melody.
Said Munson, "Steve is a North Texas State-trained jazz musician. So it's like Chan and I could hack our way through these songs, and Steve makes them legit. That's the dirty little secret of it."
The secret is starting to get out. After quickly earning a reputation around the Twin Cities -- one lofty enough to earn these former rock hounds regular gigs at the Dakota -- the New Standards have since made quite a splash in New York. They fly out there every few months to perform at the hip, cabaret-style East Village club, Joe's Pub, which also landed them a Central Park gig and a write-up in the Times.
Produced by Munson's old bandmate Dan Wilson, "Rock and Roll" definitely has more of a New York feel to it than the previous, eponymous CD. From the Lou Reed title track that leads it off to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Replacements covers ("Maps" and "Androgynous," respectively), the songs sound a little seedier and rowdier. The Spears tune and the miraculous revision of OutKast's "Hey Ya" are even danceable, albeit as 20 shades less funky than the originals.
The latter two tunes raised another question that has been hovering over the trio from the beginning: Is any of this music tongue-in-cheek?
"The short answer is: Absolutely no," Poling replied.
Said Munson, "I bring every ounce of heart to every song I sing with this group, including 'Toxic' and 'Hey Ya.' "
Roehm also interjected: "We will spend months trying to work on arrangements for these songs, trying to find our perfect kind of twist on them."
All married with children, the band members say the New Standards is a mellower, less-demanding answer to their rock 'n' roll pasts. That has proven especially important over the past year, as Poling's wife has gone through -- successfully, it appears -- a second round of cancer treatment (Munson's wife is also a cancer survivor).
For reasons like that, the guys all say they're as passionate about this band as they were any of their past acts.
"When you go through something as dire as cancer, or just any everyday challenges, nothing's more distracting and fun than getting together with your pals and playing songs you all love," Munson said.
Poling, who has been hard at work on his musical, "Venus" (opening in May at the Ritz Theater), praised the "immediate satisfaction" in the trio.
"When you play in rock bands -- which we've done our whole lives -- you've got all the amps and cords and this layer between you and the music, especially when you're playing electric keyboards, like I used to do," he said. "This is just much more organic. Playing on a piano, the feedback comes right back to you. You're not removed from the instrument.
"I find it a drag now to have to play anything electric. Really."See ya, Lori B
Long a figurehead of sorts for the local music scene, former Babes in Toyland drummer Lori Barbero is leaving Minneapolis this month for the warmer but equally musical confines of Austin, Texas. She has friends in the city, she said, and always loved playing there. Barbero said her main reason for moving south is to avoid another winter, but she also said, "I still have wings on my heels from touring 10 months out of the year.
"Minneapolis is still my favorite city in the world," she said. "But I'm single, no kids. There's no reason I have to stay in one place."
Tom Hazelmyer is hosting a going-away party for her Sunday at 7 p.m. at the only Grumpy's big enough to hold all her friends, the new one in Roseville.Random mix
Channy and Alexei Moon Casselle of Roma di Luna -- notice I put her name first in this case, for obvious reasons -- are the proud new parents of a baby girl, Pelagia (Pel-uh gee-uh) Ione Casselle. The husband-and-wife team already are planning to return to the stage Dec. 23 for their band's annual holiday show at the Cedar Cultural Center (they were preparing for it well ahead of the birth). ... Peter Himmelman is coming back home for the holidays, with a show at the Cedar on Dec. 20. ...
The Doomtree crew has one last item of artistry to promote at its annual Blowout concert at First Ave on Saturday: Dessa is also releasing a collection of printed essays (that's right, a book!). Titled "Spiral Bound," it's actually due out Jan. 6 but will be available early at the show. A practicing poet before she became a rapper, Dessa said the essays range in topic from her dad's photography to one called "The Greatest Remove," which is all about "opium, sex and car washes." ...
First Ave is hosting a showcase of its own staffers' music Tuesday in the Entry, led by 19-year-old Ani DiFranco/Rickie Lee Jones-style songstress Claire Taubenhaus, who is releasing her debut CD, "No Compass and No Commands." Mages and the Forest also perform (9 p.m., $5). ...
The Triple Rock kicks off its monthlong 10th anniversary starting with the two shows today and Saturday by hard-hitting country-rockers Lucero, but things should really get going with Dillinger Four's long-awaited CD-release parties next Friday (6 and 10 p.m.) and the equally overdue return of Har Mar Superstar on Dec. 27. Remember: The club was a bar for four years before it opened its music wing. I think we can all agree it's made a huge impact on the scene ever since.
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