Guitarist Nate Radley has the one thing that all musicians would kill for: He makes you want to listen. I first saw him at a saxophonist-led gig at Shapeshifter Lab in Brooklyn. Radley’s almost spectral style, its combination of pastoral air and urban urgency, caught my ear. I remember that sound still.
That sound fills Radley’s latest, Puzzle People, with high-stepping jaunts, moody esplanades, extended soloing terrain, and dusky night passages. It makes me think of They Live by Night, a ’50s film noir about a young couple, amateur criminals who disappear into the movie’s diners, empty main streets, and twilight alleys. Radley’s trio with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Adam Nussbaum alights on an idea like a firefly, plays with it, pokes it, then spins away, as in opener “Bubble Trouble,” which moves and elongates slowly, with glances all around.
“Golden Earrings 1” revs the motor of an aging heap, Radley’s curly picking and ambling chords a kind of textural tap-dance (with hints of “Chim Chim Cheree”). “Invitation to the Blues” demands attention, a blues bumper with unctuous goodness. “Kamikaze Frisbee” is pointed and downright funky; the title track dares you to dance. The album ends with a ’50s getaway, “Who’s Sorry Now,” popularized by Connie Francis. Radley and Co. play it for real, like they’re entertaining a Texas 4H dance where men with boots and guns will mess things up if need be. The trio bumps and jitters, dances and sways, blows smoke rings in the sky and solos right through them. Lights out.