Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Asylum Street Spankers – What? And Give Up Show Business?

In case you don’t get the reference, the album title is the punchline of an old vaudeville joke: the guy shovels shit, gets the short end of the stick every time, really has nothing to do with what’s happening onstage, but he just can’t quit the job. This sequence of tracks taken from their stagy, vaudevillian series of shows last year at the Barrow Street Theatre captures the band at the absolute peak of their consistently hilarious, raucous, virtuosic powers. In a lot of ways the Asylum Street Spankers are sort of the Dead Kennedys of oldtimey music, fearlessly aware, politically spot-on and funny as hell, especially in a live setting. This sprawling two-cd set intersperses several skits among a grand total of 25 songs. Smoking pot figures heavily in a number of them; sex is abundant, and there’s also one about beer. In other words, this is a party album guaranteed to clear the room of tight-assed yuppies and young Republicans in seconds flat.

Trying to choose which song is funniest is not easy. Everybody will get a kick out of their acoustic cover of the Black Flag hardcore classic TV Party, updated with contemporary references to emphasize the fact that the trendoids vegging out to Adult Swim or the Daily Show are no cooler than the bozos in the original, glued to Hill Street Blues. My Baby in the CIA is blackly funny, offhandedly managing to mention every CIA-sponsored coup against a democratically elected government around the world over the past half-century. The Medley of Burned-Out Songs, designed to placate rabid fans who can’t wait til the band plays their favorite, overplayed number is something that more bands should do. There’s also Christina Marrs’ deadpan Hawaiian swing number Pakalolo Baby, sounding something like the Moonlighters on good weed (or Pakalolo, for all the Hawaiian speakers out there). Winning the War on Drugs takes a quizzical, red-eyed view of prohibition, posing the logical question of why, if there’s a war on, are drugs so easy to find (My Baby in the CIA has the answer). The most technically dazzling number of them all is the medley My Favorite Records, kicking off with an absolutely perfect acoustic evocation of Black Sabbath, moving to Zep, Marrs eventually bringing down the house with her choice. And then they work a complicated contrapuntal vocal vamp to a crescendo where they replicate the sound of a stuck record without missing a beat.

Most of the skits are also funny, especially the Gig from Hell which any musician who’s spent any time on the road can relate to: not enough inputs for all the vocals, a stage that smells like vomit, the house manager trying to rip off the band like he did the one before…the list goes on and on. There’s also some remarkably straight-up and soulful blues and ragtime here too. The show finally ends with a full-length version of one of the heretofore Burned-Out Songs, the well-loved Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV (this having been recorded during the waning days of the Bush regime, there’s an undercurrent of righteous wrath just fractions of an inch below many of the jokes). The Asylum Street Spankers play the Bell House on May 19 with oldtimey/delta blues siren Mamie Minch opening the night auspiciously at 8:30 or so.

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May 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 3/23/09

Every Tuesday, in the spirit of Kasey Kasem, we try to mix it up with new and interesting stuff in a variety of styles along with the occasional rare, vintage gem. Some of these songs may appear on our Best 100 Songs of 2009 list which we’ll publish as we do every year sometime during the last week of December. All of the links below are for each individual song with the exception of #1 which is unreleased, you’ll have to come out tonight to see it live!  

 

1. Jenifer Jackson – Maybe

Gorgeous Burt Bacharach style 60s bossa nova-pop with noir overtones, from one of our era’s greatest songwriters. She’s at the Rockwood tonight (3/24) at 8.

 

2. For Feather – Love Field

Not a Costello cover  – this is a dark chamber rock song. Sounds a lot like This Reporter. They’re at Spikehill at midnight on 3/26

 

3. Avantango – Cachila

Eerie but soaring tango jazz from the pioneering combo led by bassist Pablo Aslan.

 

4. Sheila Cooper – In Love with the Night Mysterious

Canadian sax player/chanteuse. Gary Versace’s ominous piano gives this lounge jazz number an undercurrent of menace. Streaming at her site. 

 

5. The Havens – Gowanus Canal

The all-female bluegrass quartet’s deadpan tale about ganja that is, um,  not exactly organic. Yikes! They’re at Freddy’s on 3/28 at 11.

 

6. Clara Bellino – Potential Criminal

Edgy pop song. We’re all potential criminals.

 

7. Special Patrol Group – Black Clouds

Sounds a lot like Echobelly: counterintuitive chord changes, sultry vocals, intriguing lyrics. They’re at Arlene’s on 4/24.

 

8. Singing Sadie – Put Down the Carving Knife

Vaudevillian oldtimey chanteuse from Australia. Self-explanatory and fun.

 

9. ELO – Laredo Tornado

High-quality live youtube clip from British tv, 1974. Different lyrics than the classic album version on the Eldorado lp: “Towers of concrete, hellish go-round, are there to make you die!”

 

10. The Orange Monsoon – Like a Dildo on Viagra

Not much of a song, but a great title.

March 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment