TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The Philadelphia band Low Cut Connie makes what you might call old-fashioned rock 'n' roll - guitar and piano-based, rooted in classic rhythm and blues. The band can count as fans Elton John, Howard Stern and Barack Obama, who put one of the band's songs on his 2015 summer playlist. Now Low Cut Connie, led by singer-songwriter Adam Weiner, has released a double album called "Private Lives." And rock critic Ken Tucker says that this modest band's new ambitiousness is a raucous success.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRIVATE LIVES")
LOW CUT CONNIE: (Vocalizing). (Singing) Life is strange, and you do what you got to do just to survive. You got your hustle, and you got to know that, baby, I got mine. Would it make you cry if you knew about the things that you couldn’t let slide? Are you scandalized 'cause you know that I’m edging it on the sly? TT's a nanny...
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: If you see Low Cut Connie live, which you can still do even in pandemic times by watching the band's weekly live stream shows, you'll see, front and center, band leader Adam Weiner. He's got the beady-eyed look of a highly intelligent ferret, his head topped with a mass of untamed curly hair. At some point in every proceeding, he strips down to reveal a sleeveless undershirt and pasty skin. Free of both vanity and irony, Weiner pounds his piano and shakes his head and his rear end in the great tradition of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. And sometimes, he's almost as entertaining.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT DON'T TAKE A GENIUS")
LOW CUT CONNIE: (Singing) Don't try to be my shrink. Don't try to be my savior. Don't try to be my pal. Don't do my any favors. I don't understand it. Who the hell's defending me? It don't take a genius to shake me to the core. Love and understanding open up ahead to me. It don't take a genius to open up the door. Open up the door (ph).
TUCKER: With each release over the past 10 years, Low Cut Connie has become more ambitious. In the early days, they were a loud, rude bar band superb in their simplicity. But like Bruce Springsteen after he discovered literature, Weiner started bending classic rock to meet his ever more complex emotionalism. The result is that this new 17-track collection, "Private Lives," is Adam Weiner's version of "Born To Run," filled with songs about losers and lovers and beautiful dreamers.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELP ME")
LOW CUT CONNIE: (Singing) Baby, help me to be a good man. Baby, help me to be kind 'cause I'm moving in the wrong direction. I got bad things on my mind. And I'm hanging like a scarecrow with all my insides falling out - like a wolfman, like an alien, like the people you don't have to think about. And you told me to be joyful, but I'm freaked out by the sound. Walking sideways up the staircase, I fall right back to the ground. Lift me up. Lift me up. Lift me up to the sun - one time. Lift me up. Lift me up. Let me be the chosen one before I come undone.
TUCKER: It's telling that there are no pictures of the band on the "Private Lives" CD package, only photos of Weiner. The band personnel has shuffled regularly over the past few years, and Weiner wrote and produced everything on this collection. By now, he is Low Cut Connie.
The best showcase for his talent here is probably the song "Charyse," where all of Weiner's obsessions come together. The big, echoing production signals Phil Spector's Wall of Sound as the story is told of a former lover who's now a drug addict mom living on the street. And the narrator isn't doing much better himself.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHARYSE")
LOW CUT CONNIE: (Singing) What the hell happened to me? Forget about everything you heard. It's such a sickening scene coming back to this, Charyse. If we get picked up by police, tell me I'm your one and only - 'cause there's a mark on her cheek and you put kisses on my neck and said we don't have to speak. I don't expect a single a thing. But now my patience is cheap. I'd give anything to not be lonely. Say Charyse - I couldn't take it - couldn't stand to see her sleeping there out on the street. No, I couldn't leave you - couldn't leave you lying like you're dead on the cold concrete. Going to the southside, wait at the station and wake up in a stranger scene. It doesn't matter. It never did it for me, no, no, Charyse, Charyse (ph).
TUCKER: For a populist like Adam Wiener, commercial success is a necessary element in the Low Cut Connie story because to him being a star means you've got the common touch. I'm not sure how far the band can go with a sound so radically dissimilar to anything that's selling big these days. During the exhilaratingly sweaty performances he gives on the band's live streams, he refers to his army of fans as tough cookies. Being an unironic heart-on-his-sleeve go-getter has certainly got him further than I'd have figured. So maybe Adam Weiner is the fresh, tough cookie we need right now.
GROSS: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviewed "Private Lives," the new double album by the band Low Cut Connie. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, 10 lessons for a post-pandemic world. Our guest will be Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post columnist and host of CNN Sunday program "GPS." In a new book, he considers the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lessons the world should learn, including trust science and insist on honest, competent government. I hope you'll join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.