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"One of my life goals is to get one of my songs in a karaoke machine," says Cassie Ramone, singer for Brooklyn-based retro songsmiths The Babies. "Just go to a standard karaoke bar and pick my own song and sing it."
She's come close, once performing an original at a beachside karaoke bar in Bangkok. She got a chilly reception. "No one applauded," she says. Looking back, she probably shouldn't have performed it right after her own stirring rendition of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On."
You live. You learn. And as a teen, Ramone learned to project her voice while singing along in her car to "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and whatever else was on regular rotation at the oldies station. It was time well spent.
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Ramone's big voice is all over the band's jangly 2012 full-length, Our House on the Hill. Despite their steadfast Williamsburg roots, The Babies recorded their sophomore record at a studio in Los Angeles's Echo Park neighborhood, a move partially inspired by Patrick deWitt's Western novel The Sisters Brothers. "I fell in love with a couple of the characters and the whole story, and it takes place in the West," explains guitarist Kevin Morby, who also plays bass in local folkies Woods.
A lot of the songs on Our House feature characters drawn from that "Go West, young man" mystique, and the album rocks and rolls with timeless garage-pop melodies that, yes, would go over great at karaoke. Morby wails on lovelorn rambles like "Wandering," and Ramone yearns to explore America's iconic sunsets, coasts, and rolling hills on the ramshackle "See the Country." Songs like "Baby"—which gets the karaoke treatment in the video they shot for it—and "Slow Walkin'" shimmer with the infectious, PG-rated doo-wop of the Shangri-Las or The Chantels, whose song "He's Gone" Ramone covered with her other band, the slightly harder-edged Brooklynites Vivian Girls.
For Morby and Ramone, The Babies started out as a side project, existing mostly to test song ideas and play house parties. They tested well enough to be released as a self-titled album in 2011. But maintaining multiple successful bands comes at a price. "Our schedules are very busy," Morby says, "so [The Babies] don't have any plans outside of playing shows this year. Maybe at the end of this year we'll try and do something, but I really don't know."
These Babies, then, may never grow up. Best to catch them now.
The Babies play 4Knots Music Festival on Saturday, June 29.