Whether it be due to the summer heat or social distancing, the sidewalks of Tucson have been less busy in recent months. But locals can enjoy the promenades and sidestreets in auditory form thanks to Connie Brannock’s latest EP “Last Call,” which takes the groove and atmosphere of night walks around the Old Pueblo and fits them into soulful ballads.
Brannock is perhaps best known around Tucson as the vocalist for Little House of Funk, a “Sonoran soul” group that has performed at functions from Silverbell to Houghton. And while nearly all the performers on “Last Call” have also served with Little House of Funk, it’s listed as a Brannock solo album due to the more introspective and hushed tunes throughout. Brannock describes herself as a “closet torch singer” and uses “Last Call” as a subtler outlet.
“Most folks come out to our shows to dance and have a good time, and this is more of a reflective record,” Brannock said. “It’s definitely got groove, but it’s not all fast.”
The atmosphere of “Last Call” is clear right from the cover art: a dark street stretching toward a neon saguaro. The songs reflect this style, with odes to nighttime romancing and familiar Tucson sights. And while the EP holds a healthy dose of sentiment, it’s not one-note. On other tracks, Brannock considers up and leaving this “desert town” for some unknown destination beneath the moon.
The standout track is “Miracle Mile,” a love song to the areas of Oracle, Drachman and Miracle Mile, where Brannock used to perform monthly. It begins as a simple ballad with twinkling piano and walking bass, but gradually grows as Brannock expresses her observations of the street. Brass notes get things moving before the whole song expands with some of Brannock’s most soulful vocals on the album.
“I just have a love affair with Tucson,” Brannock said. “I was playing this little piano riff, and the melody for ‘Miracle Mile’ just came to me. It’s kind of an amalgamation of those streets and the activities that go on there.”
“Last Call” features a wide array of performers, including Evan Arredondo on upright bass, Lamont Arthur on the Hammond organ, Rob Boone on trombone and Christine Vivona on harp. The album was produced and recorded by Mike Levy, who also performs several instruments.
“Little House of Funk really is a collective; we have a variety of different lineups,” Brannock said. “Everyone plays in other bands and has jobs and families, so that’s how we have to do it. We have a jazz version, a blues version, a groove version, and we have the full seven-piece for the big shows. At one point, we called them different names. But it got so confusing we ended up calling it all the Little House of Funk.”
While “Last Call” is uplifting through most of its runtime, the EP came from a place of some difficulty. Brannock describes the release as “an accident, a project incomplete—a result of the surreal world we find ourselves in now.” She released a solo album in 2017 and began work on a follow-up. However, she had difficulty finishing the album, and decided to release what songs were already finished before the pandemic hit. With her EP, full of songs of love, travel and new beginnings, Brannock hopes to show that “compassion and kindness still stand tall.”
“I decided to release the six songs that the vocals are finished on, just so I could have something to offer to folks who enjoy coming out to see us,” Brannock said.
The EP is inspired not only from late-night strolls, but from a very literal realization for Brannock about having to hang up her microphone for the time being. As she sings on the title track: “Last call, I want to walk out on this feeling that something went wrong / Turn off the microphone and walk on out the door to the music of my solitude / My heart is crying, all I want to do is sing my song for you.”
However, sunlight is on the horizon, as Brannock and company plan on releasing a companion EP “when winter enters stage left.” She says this follow-up will be a more “rootsy” and guitar-based companion, a “broad daylight” EP compared to the warm nocturnes of “Last Call.”