It’s hard not to pre-judge a band by its name, especially when that name is as enticing and modern as your grandfather’s underpants. That said, even if the Bob Sharkey Quartet were actually called Your Grandfather’s Underpants, the New York-based band’s music would still win you over.
Foolish Nightmare certainly has a retro flavor. There’s a marked ’70s singer-songwriter feel to its blend of mellow jazz, autumnal folk-rock and the occasional country twang, but while each of those elements has a vintage resonance (evoking the likes of Nick Drake, Tim Buckley, John Martyn and Gram Parsons), the sum of the parts is timeless. Refreshingly simple production and finely wrought arrangements democratically showcase the strengths of all four musicians: Bob Sharkey (guitars/vocals), Fil Krohnengold (Moog/organ), Dan Green (acoustic and electric bass) and Jeff Lipstien (drums). On tracks like “Heaven,” Sharkey’s electric guitar smolders and flickers, recalling Lee Underwood’s fretwork on Buckley’s Blue Afternoon and Happy Sad, but his voice is no less potent an instrument. “Something Special,” “Paid the Price” and the breezy Jayhawks-style ballad “Out of This World” all hinge on his hushed, affecting vocal melodies. This album is full of small sonic epiphanies. Krohnengold adds crucial ingredients, as on “Alone in Mind,” where retro-futuristic Moog textures enhance the song’s bittersweet, nostalgic aura. And rather than simply play a secondary, foundational role, the rhythm section is often to the fore, helming the shifting time signatures on the lilting “The City Floor” and shaping the more jazzy “Old Romance” with supple string bass and delicate percussion.
This is a consistently strong, beautifully crafted set of songs, subtly intricate and understated and yet often immensely catchy. Indeed, rather than a band’s first album, the depth and richness of this material suggests the mature work of a group well into its career.