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Issue #24 November 2000

Writ On Water
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Squirrel Nut Zippers
Todd Butler Group
Hat
Walkie Talkie
Stir Fried with Buddy Cage
Blister
Churl


Squirrel Nut Zippers
Bedlam Ballroom

Mammoth Records
13 song CD

Even after the retro craze has waned, the Squirrel Nut Zippers continue to prove that they are more than a mere passing fad. Their initial success was somewhat unexpected---an indie label band which played hep cat lounge music in an era of rap and post-grunge rock. When you look back on it, the Zippers should probably be a mere novelty act by now, but they manage to defy logic with a strong set of new songs in the form of Bedlam Ballroom.

The thing about the Zippers is that they have the uncanny ability to emulate the actual spirit of the music from the early decades of the 20th century. Instead of throwing together a broad rehash, they have done their homework, and their influences run deeper than you might expect. While they do their standard silly schtick in tunes like Bedbugs and Stop, Drop and Roll, they also venture out and take a stab at many different genres. The soulful attitude of Do What? could easily be mistaken for an old Stax record, with plenty of strutting horns and a classic R&B beat. The most inspired moment comes with the soft Latin flavor of It All Depends, which singer Katherine Whalen croons in delicious romantic fashion.

If the retro scene is too passe for your tastes, then simply chalk this one up as a guilty pleasure. You'll be glad you did.

MISH MASH Mandate: Retro Rocket.

Squirrel Nut Zippers Website


Todd Butler Group
Lockout

TBG Records
10 song CD

It's not easy to revive the spirits of Davis and Coltrane, but the Todd Butler Group comes about as close as you can get. The ultra-cool sounds of Todd Butler's trumpet and Kyle Coughlin's saxophone bring to mind the glory days of the masters of be-bop jazz.

Butler is at his best on the anxious downtown sounds of the title track and the quick stepping Del Sasser. He and Coughlin make a great team on the echoing phrases of Nat's Groove, playing off of each other effortlessly. They also take a high class strut on The Meltdown, and then cruise into the stop-and-start grooves of Rosie's Place.

This is one of the best jazz albums I've heard in a long while. Butler and his group do a great job of getting to the heart of bop, breathing new life into it without simply recycling, even throwing in a few originals that could be classics in their own right. Well done.

MISH MASH Mandate: Rebirth of Cool.

Todd Butler Group Website


Hat
Illumination

Stump Records
9 song CD

Like a favorite well-worn shoe, Hat has a low-down dirty appeal that is true classic rock. There is not much new here--they take a stab at every sub genre of rock, but they manage to pull it off. Filled with plenty of fuzzy guitars and hazy riffs, it's a perfect way to get your 70s-era fix.

The album begins with the drugged-out reggae of Fee Fi Fo Fum, a song that sounds like strange blend between Are You Experienced? and Bob Marley. From there, Hat eases into the far-out hippie grooves of Illumination, which then merges into the folk rock of Suzanna. The boys turn up the overdrive on the dual guitar blues of Doggy, and they get a little spaced out with the other-worldly sounds of Bigger.

Hat is just ambitious enough to make this one a keeper. They may not be original, but they approach the music in a unique fashion, making their songs fresh and alive.

MISH MASH Mandate: Mad Hatter

Hat Website


Walkie Talkie
Twilite At Spanish Castle

mp3.com D.A.M. CD
11 song CD

Sometimes it's hard to live up to your own greatness. This album begins with a fascinating song called Alien Boy, and let me tell you, I sat here riveted as it streamed out of my speakers. It has a quiet mystery about it, flowing in a lilting fashion, almost borrowing the chord progression from Led Zeppelin's Going To California. There are subtle background noises that creep in and drift away, building and receding perfectly. Vocalists Jim Lacey Baker and Dani Francis share the singing duties, each delivering their parts in a sleepy whisper. This is an incredible song, and that's not to say that the rest of the album isn't any good, it just can't come close to this.

Another song worthy of note is Hard Times, a lonely country song that is presented in the obligatory old-timey fashion, vinyl record pops and all. It has an authenticity about it that supersedes novelty, and it ends with a blurb from an actual gospel record from way back when.

Walkie Talkie has a lot of promise, blending ambitious sounds with a creative approach. Can't wait to hear what they'll do next.

MISH MASH Mandate: Keep Feeling Fascination. Walkie Talkie mp3.com page


Stir Fried with Buddy Cage
Last of the Blue Diamond Miners

Falbo Records
12 song CD

Steel guitarist Buddy Cage has played with just about everybody (and I mean everybody), but he's probably best known for his stint with the New Riders of the Purple Sage. So, it should come as no surprise that the hippie-styled rock of his latest collaboration with Stir Fried has more than a fleeting resemblance to the Greatful Dead. Lead vocalist John Markowski has a grit-and-gravel singing voice, not unlike Vic Chesnutt, which mixed with a GD sound makes an interesting combination.

Vanessa opens the album with a bluesy laid-back groove, which features the Grace Slick-inspired backing vocals of Joanne Lediger. Nothing To Do allows Cage to ramble along with classic western flavored steel guitar phrasings, providing a colorful palette of melody that rides along a flowing rhythm section. The funky grooves of Blood Brother meshes and melds into C'est Bonne Rue and returns again. The bouncy Road Trip to Marist is quick and lively, and The Door Is Still Open has a definitive classic rock feel, a song that actually seems to borrow the main chord progression from BTO's Taking Care of Business.

This record is a lot of fun, and is sure to please anyone with an affinity for "jam" oriented rock. Cage is the master of his instrument, and he doesn't fail to deliver.

MISH MASH Mandate: Stirred Steel

Stir Fried Website


Blister
Live

Independent

Blister churns out handfuls of dumb-rock, along the lines of Radiohead-meets-The Melvins. Their biggest hits come with rockers about Alcohol and other planets, but they still catch a bright and shiny groove with slower works like “Rocket.” Blister just has a nice, heavy and dark but easy going feel to them, which they even put in well in Fogerty’s “Bad Moon Rising.” “Birth Cage” is them at their best.

For the record, although it may have been recorded so to give it the genuine and heartfelt feel that it has, none of the songs were actually recorded live.

Reviewed by correspondent Brian Connelly

Blister Website


Churl
Churl

Grub Records
7" vinyl single

Churl is just as they say; fast and loud. And furious. A three-piece punk band from Fairfax, Virginia with humorous undertones. Vocals are lacking in rhythm and timing, but then again what punk band is known for its lead singer’s talent? What counts is the attitude. Guitar chords are catchy without being poppy, drumming is full throttle without being stale. And what’s actually quite intelligent about this band is their ability to incorporate hardcore sounds and patterns and ever-so subtly converting them into punk riffs. Very nicely done. So if you like your music hard and dirty and messy, check out Churl.

Reviewed by correspondent Brian Connelly

Churl Website



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