The Lounge is Open . . . Again

Michael Lindner.
Cocktail Napkin. (Alleyone Music)

By Tim Roberts

Why won't this lounge-music nostalgia ever completely go away? More than a decade ago, there was a frenetic buzz was about the resurgence of swing and cocktail lounge music. If it wasn't 15-piece bands in zoot suits crowding the stage, it was small combos recreating surf-music and "Music To Hang Around in Your Smoking Jacket in Your Tastefully Decorated Bachelor Pad While Draining Your Martini Pitcher Dry By."

It went away rather quickly. But it did leave behind several good chunks of music, notably the stuff from Louisville's Love Jones, the retro-pop of Seks Bomba and the moody surf-rock of the Aqua Velvets. And now the Velvets' bassist, Michael Lindner, has released a solo work called Cocktail Napkin, a relaxed, entertaining collection of originals (and a cover) that doesn't force our ears to endure more tributes to bachelor-pad-swing-surf nostalgia, but, instead, augments the best hooks and styles of the music that inspired it.

It's a big task to distill and rework the elements of a variety of music genres to make them something a little more original, but Lindner manages to do so with subtlety and understatement. And fun. The best examples? The pulsing Hammond B3 and fuzz-guitar underneath "96 Blues Per Minute," the trippy guitar tremolo riff that carries through "Tremulux," and the folky mandolin and acoustic guitar in "Birth-Day-2004."

Lindner also sings for us in "2000 Man" and the opening track, "Little Red Book," where a guy is trying to win back a woman he loves by promising to cross out the names of girls in his address book (the kind nearly all men still carry around, even though it's now digitized and compacted into a cell phone and to take out a name you just press a single button). The guy sounds both pleading and pathetic, made clear by how Lindner crams the lyrics into the song's steady rhythm.

A large part of the music we enjoy is rooted in nostalgia. Stuff we hear one year reminds us of something we heard growing up. Not a bad thing at all. But what makes a nostalgic sound distinctive is a maturity in how it is used. Michael Lindner's Cocktail Napkin takes those nostalgic elements (from a decade or more ago) and doesn't just throw them back at us to remind us of how cool they sounded. Instead, he treats them like, well, a cocktail napkin, which can be used not only to keep a drink from making a wet ring on a table, but can also be a means of swapping phone numbers, where ideas and notes are written down, where business plans are sketched out and started.

It shows how functional and versatile they are.

Find out how functional a cocktail napkin can be at