Mindi Abair’s No Good Deed is a study in contrasts. Abair is a singer/saxophonist who doesn’t jam too much of the instrument into her songs. She’s a classic rhythm-and-blues aficionado who has a strong sense of contemporary pop. And she proudly wears her influences on her sleeve without sounding derivative. But most importantly of all, her fourth album is smart and but also fun. You don’t have to think about it to enjoy it.
Of course, if you decide to think about No Good Deed, you’re going to be rewarded. The album’s influences are especially interesting, ranging from Etta James to Ike and Tina Turner to Debbie Harry, all the way over to Elton John. Abair pulls from a wide range of influences but remains true to her sound. That sound is traditional blues rock instrumentation (guitar, organ, bass and drums), subtly and tastefully fleshed out by her saxophone, and led by her voice, which is a mix of blues grit and rock power.
Her voice shows its depth on “You Better Run,” originally by the Young Rascals, but perhaps more famously covered by Pat Benatar. Abair’s version combines the two, with male backing vocals a la the Rascals’ version and an energy borrowed from Benatar. The Boneshakers also contribute organ swells and a down-and-dirty guitar riff that makes the verses feel like a blues. Abair’s saxophone floats in strategically, not dominating the song, but simply providing an additional texture.
Abair is also a versatile songwriter. “Mess I’m In” has a Sheryl Crow hint of country bounce, aided by Abair’s playful voice. There’s also a Creedence Clearwater Revival tremolo-tinted guitar line running through the song, meshing well with its electric piano. Abair’s saxophone comes in right at the end to put a beautiful cherry on a fun sundae of a song. “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul?” is a dramatic power ballad, built upon a bluesy Randy Jacobs guitar riff that takes a lot of inspiration from George Harrison. The song itself builds like Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” perhaps unsurprising since Abair has toured with them.
The album concludes with “Baby, Get It On,” an Ike and Tina Turner song. Drummer Third Richardson handles the Ike vocal part while Abair takes on the Tina vocals. Initially, it sounds a lot like Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” but going back to listen to the Turners’ original, released two years after John’s song, “Baby, Get It On” also resembled “Saturday Night.” And it points out what makes No Good Deed so good. Artists are influenced by other artists. Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s impossible to say if Ike and Tina were influenced by John, but the songs sound alike and that similarity doesn’t make either song any less enjoyable.
Abair has an ear for songs. It infects her singing, playing, songwriting, and song selection. She’s influenced by everything she hears but processes it through her own voice. So while No Good Deed has lots of familiar nods and winks, as well as carefully-chosen covers, you finish the album with a strong sense of who Abair is as an artist. The album is all the more impressive given that it was recorded in just five days. It has the energy of a live show, but the production of something far more extensive. It’s yet another contrast that makes this such an enjoyable album.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Mess I’m In
– Baby, Get It On
– Who’s Gonna Save My Soul?
– No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
– You Better Run
The Big Hit
– You Better Run
Review by Steven Ovadia