“Everybody knows I’m hot,” Meschiya Lake sings here on a version of Louis Prima’s “It’s the Rhythm in Me.” Well, yes: Many of the fans who flock to her shows at the Spotted Cat have likely figured that much out. True, Prima meant he was hot in a musical sense, but Lake sings that line with enough of an audible wink to show she’s aware of the innuendo. And that kind of moment is what she’s all about, honoring vintage jazz while having some fun with it.
Her second CD with the Little Big Horns keeps a sense of irreverence throughout, but never enough to cancel out the band’s serious chops. It’s fitting that a couple of the songs come from theatrical sources. The opening “Catch ’Em Young” is socially incorrect in all sorts of ways—the advice it offers is “Catch ’em young, treat ’em rough, never tell ’em nothing”—and it’s been done by male and female performers over the years; but few have sounded quite as gleeful as Lake does here. Likewise, the old Billie Holiday number “My Man” is fairly sobering if you take the lyrics at face value (“He isn’t true, he beats me too”) but Lake sings it as if she’s sending up the idea that anyone could love this particular dolt. Completing a screwed-up trilogy is the murderous “Miss Otis Regrets”—not made over-dramatic as in many versions, but played for the dark humor that author Cole Porter intended.
A full CD of this kind of song would be a bit much, but the rest has a gentler tone. Lake’s own title track compares well with the originals on the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s latest album; evoking the romance of this city without falling into cliché. “Midnight on the Bayou” (by Lake and guitarist Russell Welch) is taken at a slow and sultry pace that evokes that setting at this time of year. And the finale is a mild shock: “I Believe in Music,” the feel-good Mac Davis song from the early ’70s, done as a straight-up sing-a-long. Doing songs about murder and domestic abuse is one thing, but doing a song so steeped in peace, love and bell-bottoms takes real nerve.