Singer Rachel Nagy, more Ronnie-rough than Aretha-strong, chooses nuance over volume on Life Love and Leaving. She's been listening closely to Irma Thomas, perfecting that little tremble at the end of each phrase in "Cry On." She also snarls through swaggering tracks by Ike Turner, Solomon Burke and Otis Redding with an authority that justifies the decision to change the title of Davis Jones and the Fenders' "Boss With the Hot Sauce" to "Boss Lady." The call-and-response chorus in the opener, Mickey Lee Lane's "Hey Sah-Lo-Ney" (inexplicably listed as "Hey Sailor"), would be stuck in your head permanently if it weren't followed by "He Did It," a pre-Spector Ronettes single featuring soaring vocals over sha-la-las straight from heaven. But the high point of the album is "Right Around the Corner"; Nagy's gender-switching makes the double-entendres as meaningless as the yaki-taki-oo-ah! chorus, while the band raves on.
This lineup is the fifth incarnation of the Detroit Cobras. Like Nagy, all the members know that simple turns of phrase are more effective than flash. You may not notice the subtle organ and piano touches the first dozen times you listen to Life, Love and Leaving, but that instrumental savvy is what makes the Cobras more than musical re-enactors. Soul, not nostalgia, defines this record.