Elizabeth McQueen’s Solo Turn Surprises

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Asleep At the Wheel is an Austin institution. They are known for a very particular brand of Texas Swing that was popularized back in the 1940s, and which they ably perpetuate for future generations. You know some of these songs, even if you don’t realize it, like “Cotton Eyed Joe,” and “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66,” and Asleep at the Wheel has helped canonize a lot of these gems. After more than eight years with these venerable musicians, McQueen is striking out on her own, with The Laziest Remix.

It’s no surprise, given her pedigree, that many of the tracks on McQueen’s EP have a distinctly jazzy flavor. The chord changes are uncommon for popular music, and McQueen’s voice sounds suited for Sarah Vaughan covers. That much is evident from the sultry opening track, “Laziest Girl in Town,” which rises like smoke off blacktop on a hot summer night. The same could be said, though, for the original version of this track, cut for her 2010 album, The Laziest Girl in Town, from which five of the six tracks on The Laziest Remix are taken.

Yet, McQueen has a trick up her sleeve – also almost immediately evident. Brothers Lazaroff. This roots rock group from St. Louis (one member spent some time in Austin a while back) has recorded fairly benign Americana, but partnered with McQueen, they are free to explore the more electronic sides of their sound. There are samples everywhere here, and drum programming galore. This honestly sounds nothing like what I’ve heard from their 2013 release, Hope, Fear, Youth, and it is infinitely better.

The musical backing across this album features thick, active bass lines and hip-hop-ified percussion tracks that are lightened by smoky horns, and peppered with samples and synthy bleeps and bloops. When Jeff Lazaroff accompanies McQueen on vocals, he comes across as a less raspy Tricky, adding to the tracks’ distant mystique. This is old-timey traditional music (“Laziest” is a Cole Porter song) contemporized in a natural, effortless way.

What prevents these tracks from being background music in an Urban Outfitters is McQueen. She refuses to melt into the mix; her personality stands out as she twists around the melodies. In these new mixes, McQueen sounds right at home. Her voice meshes effortlessly with the 21st century beats that Brothers Lazaroff create.

The one misstep occurs in the otherwise good “Gone Solid Gone” with rapper Thelonius Kryptonite’s guest turn on the mic. His simple cadence is jarring amid the dreamy but intricate world built by the stuttering rhythm section of Brothers Lazaroff and McQueen’s carefree vocals.

The final track, “Dreamin’,” is a Brothers Lazaroff song on which McQueen does vocals. It’s an adequate number, but its more conventional approach really highlights the incredible work the group did on the preceding five remixes. The Laziest Remix transports the listener into an entirely different world. It charts a path for a reinvigoration of vocal jazz/swing numbers by infusing them with so many different genre codes (hip-hop, electronica, reggae, etc, etc) that it sounds like nothing and everything all at once. By leaving the fold of Asleep at the Wheel, McQueen has moved from preserving the past to carving out the future.

Check out her EP release show at Lambert’s tomorrow night, with a star-studded supporting cast, featuring Nakia, Jazz Mills, Erin Ivey and more!

– Carter Delloro