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Jukebox The Ghost in peak form on ‘Off To The Races’

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What would it sound like if circa-1976 Queen time-traveled to 2018 to write and record with a trio of contemporary pop-craftsmen?

“Off To The Races” from Brooklyn-based Jukebox The Ghost is as close as we’re likely to hear. One of the most richly dynamic pop albums of the year so far, “Off To The Races” is a sonic wonder.

Teased in these pages last month, JTG proudly wears their Queen-love on their sleeves. “Off To The Races” will likely remind some listeners of Freddie Mercury’s quirkily elegant lyrics, layered vocals and four octave range and Brian May’s melodic and symphonious guitar work. Under the surface, Jukebox The Ghost have crafted their most confident music yet while taking risks that many of their contemporaries would never consider.

Opening track “Jumpstarted” distills the essence of Queen grafted with the songwriting chops and startling production of much-missed power-pop band Jellyfish. Pianist and lead singer Ben Thornewill layered more than 170 vocal tracks here as guitarist Tommy Siegel dials in Brian May’s midrange-soaked guitar tone in an appropriately Queen-sian solo.

One of the most laudatory aspects of Jukebox The Ghost is their ability to embrace a common influence like Queen while maintaining originality.

For the past three years, JTG has performed Halloween extravaganzas known as “HalloQueen” – playing a set as themselves before donning a musical costume for a second set of Queen material - obscurities and hits alike.

Further highlights on “Off To The Races” include “Everybody’s Lonely,” a track that sounds like a breath of fresh spring air. Hooks abound and theatrics pack a punch as the song crams more twists and turns than most current pop hits. A modern musical dramedy rooted in both past and present, its direction is impossible to predict. Contemporary Hit Radio could use songs like this.

Another potential hit, “Fred Astaire” is this year’s “Shut Up and Dance” though it might have more in common with glam-rockers Scissor Sisters than it does Walk The Moon.

“Diane” features acoustic guitars, layered harmony vocals and Jesse Kristin’s prominent in-the-pocket drums on another song showcasing the band’s innate sense of pop songcraft.

“Boring” is a funny postmodern love song in which the protagonist notices his friends settling down, procreating and thinking maybe it’s that’s a good idea. Betcha can’t listen without laughing.

“Everyone is boring, everything is lame. Everybody thinks they’re not the same,” he says to his significant other. “I’d rather rot in hell than watch you become lame with someone else. That’d really bring me down.”

Having performed more than a thousand shows since forming at George Washington University in 2003, Jukebox The Ghost live are a fun and tremendously powerful force.

On a personal note, I saw the trio open for Barenaked Ladies in Portland in 2010. To this day, it is a contender for best opening set I’ve seen by anyone.

During intermission, I bolted to the band’s merch table to buy then-current “Everything Under The Sun” and found them happily signing copies and chatting up new fans.

Don’t pass up the opportunity to catch these modern-pop wizards in concert if they appear in your area. “Off To The Races” deserves to see Jukebox The Ghost expand their territory considerably.

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