Soul, majestic: Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes bring R&B and girl group power to the Blind Tiger

Clairy Browne and the Bangin' Rackettes bring their popular, long-running tour to the Blind Tiger.
Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes bring their popular, long-running tour to the Blind Tiger.

Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes may sound like they grew up playing the beer-soaked barrooms of Memphis, but in reality this group hails from Melbourne, Australia. You’d never know that from their songs, one of which, “Love Letter,” got major play in the U.S. when it became the soundtrack to a clever Heineken commercial two years ago. The song, a mix of Amy Winehouse-style retro soul with nods to Phil Spector and Otis Redding, sounded both modern and straight out of a 1966 jukebox. From Melbourne cabarets to the artistic greenhouse of SXSW, the group has been touring incessantly, and now they arrive in Santa Barbara, to play at Blind Tiger, a most appropriate venue for their glamorous show.

In the early 2000s, Clairy Browne was in a band called Jacket, “a bad version of Black Eyed Peas,” she groans. “It was hip-hop in as far as Australians can do hip-hop. I wasn’t dropping any rhymes, I was always singing.”

But that’s where she met bass player and future collaborator Jules Pascoe. She called on him in 2009 with a special request. A promoter called Hannah Fox was putting on a special night.

“I was thinking I wanted to get back on stage, nothing major, just perform,” she says. Ms. Browne had an idea to form an R&B girl band, sing five (quite obscure) covers, get dressed up in vintage outfits, and deck the stage with candlelight. “It was raucous on stage the minute we did it. It had that hysterical feeling of 1966 television.”

Overnight Ms. Browne had a thing on her hands and a promoter who wanted her and her band to do more.

“I love that cathartic emotive sense that (soul music) songs give you,” she says. “It’s all about celebration and community and politics and heart. All those themes were important to me.”

The band, which at one point featured Clairy’s sister as a back-up singer, became very popular around Australia, but it was the Internet that helped them go international. In 2012 their manager got a late-night call from someone in Europe who not only wanted to use “Love Letter” in a commercial, but wanted to fly Ms. Browne to Prague to be in it. Soon she found herself strapped to a stage and being turned upside down in a production that did not use any computer effects. (Search YouTube for Heineken and “Love Letter” to find the commercial.)

That was 2012 and soon the band was touring internationally, just “dipping our toes in the market,” as she says. Clairy Browne and her music were continuing the work started by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Amy Winehouse, Adele and others in this retro R&B movement.

“I feel like what we’re trying to do is slightly different,” she says. “We have more edge and drama and dirt, you know what I mean? More unpredictability.”

On this tour they’ve taken time to record new material for their follow-up to “Baby Caught the Bus,” their debut album. They did so at Atlanta’s Stankonia Studios, owned by the members of Outkast. “A lot of hits came out of that room,” Ms. Browne says. “And I did get to meet Big Boi. He came into the studio while I was doing vocals, and scared the s— out of me! I was like, okay, now I get to sing in front of you! We don’t have those kind of opportunities in Australia, so this was a big deal.”

The band will end its current tour at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, and then focus on the next album.

Ms. Browne’s dad was a musician too, although he never got as far into the business as his daughter. However, he did have some advice for her. “‘The cream always rises to the top,’ he’d say. You have to have that attitude of — you cannot fail.”

Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Blind Tiger, 409 State St.
Cost: $15
Information: or 957-4111

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