Scarlett Siren & The Howlin’ Tramps: “Cruel Mistress” mixes the traditional with the unusual, and the exceptional

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Portland OR collective, Scarlett Siren & The Howlin’ Tramps, have a passion for rock, blues and jazz dressed up Burlesque aesthetics. They are not like other bands. They gleefully mix the traditional with the unusual, and the exceptional, and lord know what else, on their recently released 4 track EP, “Cruel Mistress”, which is currently available online. This eclectic recording proudly skirts through the various styles on offer, and Scarlett Siren & The Howlin’ Tramps makes us feel fully compensated with her intense and acute deliveries. You have to obviously have to buy into the idea to get it I suppose. But why wouldn’t you? A dozen influences are transformed in the melting pot of the band’s imagination, and endowed with an unpretentious grandeur seldom heard in today’s music.

The songs are characteristic of a mix of theatrical and cabaret traditions, with large doses of blues-based rock, punctuated by resonating horns. Scarlett Siren unleashes the power of her impacting vocals several times throughout. Flawless phrasing enhances the beauty of her pitch-perfect voice, which is equally adept on boisterous arrangements such as the opening title track, “Cruel Mistress (Pour Me Another Drink)”, as it is on the more emotionally intimate soundscapes such as “Black Widow”.

The secret to Scarlett Siren’s captivating attraction is easy to identify from the very first notes of this EP. She deals comfortably in a retro, nostalgic type of blues-tinged jazzy pop and rock, that her mainstream contemporaries can only dream of.

The “Cruel Mistress” EP is a wonderful combination of voice and rhythms that makes your foot tap the beat, and your head nod. Sassy, smart, sexy, and smoky Scarlett Siren & The Howlin’ Tramps really know how to sell a song. This recording accomplishes what it’s supposed to – it emotes like mad, it feels good, it’s quaint, and yet familiar.

But that’s not all it does; the four song set also serves as a compelling reminder that this is a collective of superior players, deserving of attention outside of the niche they are exploring. The EP is a show of strengths: The horns are crisp and rousing, the rhythm section boils, and the soloists soar. The band tears into each song with fervor and intensity regardless of the pace.

Modern female singers tend to have overly engineered voices and their music tends to be of the lowest caliber, lacking any sort of soul. That’s why you need to tune into “One Night Stand”. Scarlett Siren has a fabulous voice that she uses with a lot of skill and intelligence.

Here she boasts a tone that’s teasingly suggestive with a blend of yearning and confidence that makes her that much more enticing. She rarely leaves anything to the imagination while telling her would-be lovers her heart is open and her willingness complete, without any strings attached – “You’ll never be my friend. You’ll never be my man. You’re just a one night stand.” She is at her best when she tosses subtlety aside.

Its little wonder then that Scarlett Siren’s come-hither desire becomes the central theme, throughout this recording, with the music by Cory Howie (Bass), Aaron Eels (Guitar), Margaret McGovern (Sax) and Pete Wells (Drums), providing the appropriate cushion to buttress her intents. There’s no mistaking her passion, as she makes every intention clear, going from a blues growl to a rock howl in a heartbeat.

“Black Widow” – a big, brassy and gritty soul ballad – sees Scarlett Siren wrench every last drop of emotion from the heartfelt lyrics. A performance she repeats with more restraint and focused cynicism on the EP closer “Love Song”. At the end of this recording, it’s clear to me that Scarlett Siren & The Howlin’ Tramps are not playing in any niche, they are absolutely creating their own. And it’s delicious every time you hear it.

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