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Ciao Bella 

Down (Beautiful Music)

Few bands can boast a descriptor like "demented lounge." Yet that's the tag applied to Ciao Bella, a dark and debonair bass, drums, and piano-driven quartet. Slinking drum riffs, a smoked-out piano, and jazzy bass grooves stewed over moping tales of vampires, betrayal, and big-city blues form the basis of this band's oddball aesthetic.

The mix is kitschy yet groovy. It's also a far cry from the metal and punk acts (Ripped, the Aggrevators, and One Beat Off) that spawned the ensemble. The band has traded in its past aggression for introspection, resulting in sly elegies that can move like a Morphine melody or sulk like a Mick Harvey arrangement. Frontman Richard A. Fisher II croons sullen ballads like a sickly Elvis Costello, prone to bouts of dementia à la Screaming Jay Hawkins ("Soak up the blood with a loaf of fresh bread!").

The foursome's first full-length disc, aptly titled Down, is a showcase of Ciao Bella's sinister lounge set. The ensemble belts out 10 meaty dirges full of robust piano, jazz atmospherics, and Fisher's neuroses. Songs like "Andy Warhol's Dracula" and "Knock Knock" open with subtle melodies that groove on strolling bass work and high-hat jazz percussion. Then enters pianist Michael J. Lindow, who fleshes out Ciao Bella's sound, putting soul and style behind Fisher's cheeky howls. His prowess on the keys gives the band range, breathing mood and tempo into an assortment of Nick Cave-like laments ("Deaf to Me") and Zombies-style rock tunes ("Red Tide . . . Salvador"). Bundled together, Down reveals a local act that can be both motley and clever, and one that's capable of delivering its demented persona with an uncanny panache.

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More by Keith Gribbins

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