Keith Burnstein, transplanted New Yorker and lead singer-songwriter of this smooth PBR&B jam band, sings a lot like Dr. John in his classic early-’70s salad days, but that’s really just his way of being sly: Wisely introducing themselves with a live set, Kettle Black are a synthesis of most of what made both New York and New Orleans so tight in the ’70s. Rolling piano, exploratory guitar solos, a strong enough pop sensibility, light and almost tropical funk grooves not heavy enough to drag down those smooth electric-piano glissandos or disturb the surface of those shimmering, exquisitely jazzy chord changes, and most notably, a mellow approach to the pain of romance that suggests that in the game of love, just being alive and fully yourself is enough. Turns out being sly is a bit of subterfuge; most of the time, just having emotions is wondrous enough for Keith.
“Gorgeous” is the word to describe where the group sound usually ends up; no matter what Keith is going on about, it sure sounds nice. Is “False Paradise” about Cuba? Why the minor key on “Brio”? Is his swamp-pop waltz “Cherry Red” celebratory or wistful or resigned? In the end, it doesn’t matter. Raja Kassis’ solos and Keith’s happy-wanderer vibe are an unbeatable combo, and the climax, a gently epic 12-minute jam called “Wishing Well,” feels like a hot tub full of oxytocins. And hey, maybe the mission statement is in there too: “Awash in the beauty/ Alive in the noise.” Or is that “her beauty”? Damn.