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EP review: 'Better Days' by The Sideways 

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Having just released its second collection “Better Days,” close behind its debut “The Upright EP,” the nine-piece pop band The Sideways are clearly on to something. The group is one of a slew of young, jazz-inspired outfits with bold brass sections and heavy doses of soul and funk that have emerged locally in recent years — The Saplings, Nancy, and The Recall among them.

What sets The Sideways apart is its primary songwriter and frontman Joe Stehle, one of the more charismatic male vocalists you can find in Rochester. With singing that marries smooth melodies to precise intonation and a gritty vocal quality, Stehle sounds young enough to crow about his youth, but seasoned enough that you believe what he’s singing.

The second track on “Better Days,” entitled “Common Ground,” articulates this blend of innocence and experience expertly, as Stehle seeks genuine romantic connection without labels — backed by guitars in overdrive and big-band bombast.

The Sideways aren’t reinventing the groove here by any means. In addition to settling into the proven musical idioms of jazz and soul, elements of ‘90s ska and alternative rock are easily identifiable. Listening to the title track, it’s impossible for me to not hear the piano rock chord progression of Ben Folds Five’s song “Underground.”

But Stehle and company know what they’re about, and they have the musical chops to back it up. Don’t sleep on this outfit.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s music editor. He can be reached at
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