You can’t blame musicians who have escaped such notoriously turbulent bands as Thelonious Monster and the Pogues for seeking a little order and calm. With the Low & Sweet Orchestra, though, Monster alumni Mike Martt and Zander Schloss and former Pogue James Fearnley might be overcompensating.
Their debut album, “Goodbye to All That,” is so cleanly and meticulously recorded that it tends to sound faceless. The band was more raucous at the Roxy on Wednesday, but its blend of Celtic-accented folk-rock and L.A. gutter reportage didn’t always mesh, and the music often remained bland.
That’s curious, because the main songwriting team of Martt and Schloss has viewpoint and imagination, capturing a wounded but resilient spirit. And the string-heavy group, with its rotation of mandolin, fiddle, cellos and slide guitars alongside rock rhythm section and accordion (with Kurt Wolak filling in for new dad Fearnley), can raise an engaging ruckus.
What’s missing, ironically, is a forceful and distinctive vocal presence--someone like Thelonious Monster’s Bob Forrest or the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan. Martt, for all his long-held stature in the L.A. music community, has his limitations. His rough-edged voice is textured by experience and fired by an inner drive, but it lacks a wide range and the features that can convey rich character.
Still, Martt’s experience can bring a real fervor to the music. In the set’s strongest song, “I Had to Leave a Friend Behind,” the singer describes the difficult process of shedding influences that might impede the narrator’s recovery from substance abuse. Martt and the band delivered it with a mounting intensity, as if to prove that flavor and passion can be achieved by a group that’s not in the grip of chaos.