Constantine & the Call Operators – Constantine & the Call Operators
Self-release – 2021
9 tracks; 36:44
Constantine & the Call Operators have a vintage sound, taken from the best American music of the 1950s and ’60s. Proving music’s global reach, this band originates from Helsinki, Finland, not that there’s any tell in their music. Instead their self-titled album sounds like a collection of lost or forgotten hits from some of music’s golden eras.
The album starts out on the right foot with “Blind Man in a Maze,” which sounds like Motown, complete with the horns, falsetto and piano flourishes. And as with vintage Motown, bass, here provided by Jaska Prepula, provides the song with its heartbeat, although singer/guitarist Konstantin Kovalev’s vocals are also impressive.
“Losing Game” is a slower tune, a ballad that feels a bit more modern, perhaps touching all the way to the 1970s. Kovalev sings a refrain of “Love is a losing game,” almost as if he’s trying to to hypnotize the listener into believing something that the narrator might not quite believe himself. Kovalev’s guitar break is pretty, never veering too far from the song’s huge hook. Coming in at over six minutes, the tune is a bit long, though. So much classic ’50s and ’60s music works because of how songwriters got into and out of songs quickly. As beautiful as “Losing Game” is, especially the guitar soloing, it lags a bit.
The album’s songwriting is impressive overall, though, especially given how many sub-genres they explore, but their cover of “Please Believe Me,” a 1940s’ track originally performed by Frank Haywood, shows the band’s understanding of the different musical idioms. Where Haywood’s original is low-key, Constantine & the Call Operators re-position the tune in the 1950s, complete with climbing piano runs, a vast horn section, and a beat that won’t quit. They keep the essence of the original, but re-imagine it for a different time period.
Constantine & the Call Operators is a fun album from a talented band, but to move beyond fun novelty, they might want to think about different ways to deploy these classic sounds. “Please Believe Me” is one of the album’s more compelling tracks, not just because of the strong performances, but in how the band combines different styles, taking a song from one era and placing it in the sonic context of another. More mixing and matching like that in their own songwriting, rather than their deferential approach, might create some new and exciting sounds. This is a tight polished band, and Kovalev is a wonderful songwriter. It will be interesting to see how their sound evolves.