On Bad Self Portraits, the latest effort from Boston quartet Lake Street Dive, frontwoman Rachael Price belts out rough-and-tumble R&B material with the brassy self-assurance of a seasoned roadhouse vet. Backed by the loose-knit playing of drummer Mike Calabrese, bassist/keyboardist Bridget Kearney, and guitarist/horn player Mike "McDuck" Olson, the 28-year-old raises the rollicking Bonnie Raitt rafters on memorable cuts like "Rabid Animal," "Bobby Tanqueray," and the doo-wop-retro "Stop Your Crying." But it's certainly not the music she and her friends ever planned on playing.
Price hailed from Hendersonville, Tenn., and boasts a lineage as colorful as her vocal career. Her great-grandfather was creationist cartoonist George McCready Price, author of controversial texts like Illogical Geology. Her father, Tom Price, is a choral-music arranger who has worked with up to 400 voices as well as performers like the late Ravi Shankar. It was dad who first got her crooning as a mere toddler.
"We're Baha'i, so we don't really go to church, and we don't believe in creationism — we believe in evolution," Price wants to clarify. "But we do sing a lot of Gospel music, so I was in choirs when I was 5. And in the choir that my dad conducted, it was all Gospel music, choral arrangements, and classical. It was a pretty diverse mix of stuff."
Through that early training, she learned how to pick out different harmony parts and seamlessly blend her trill with others. Then she discovered jazz, and her style morphed again.
"I started singing jazz when I was 7, and I just loved it — I watched a lot of big-band musicals from the '40s and Judy Garland films, so it became a big obsession, early on."
Price began working toward a jazz studies degree at the New England Conservatory, releasing solo jazz recordings through Claire Vision, and performing with the T.S. Monk Sextet.
But she soon began to feel the genre had become too precious.
"When you see it now, it's always in a pristine setting, and it's an older, wealthier sort of audience," she laments. "I found it a little too stuffy."
So Price formed her current outfit as a reaction to her schooling. "That's why we're called Lake Street Dive," she laughs. "The original concept of the band was that we were going to make music to play in dive bars, not music to play in concert halls. Music that was going to be spontaneous and fun, not serious."
Early on, Price says, the group was directionless and bizarre-sounding, before it found its garage-gravelly footing. "We were just doing it to do it. We'd just always wanted to be in a band — that's one of the things that really united us. We weren't interested in being just some session musicians, or playing five nights a week at the same club, or working with 10 different bands.
"We wanted one project," she adds, "and we wanted to make it the best thing that we could make it."