"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Saturday, August 26, 2006

In Your Ear


Mommy Says No!

Buffalo Records, 2,500 yen

The eclectic Asylum Street Spankers--self-described as "God's Favorite Band"--have once again defied expectations and classification with their latest release. Admittedly, almost anything might have been expected from a band known for blending 1930s blues and jazz novelties, punk, country and even gangster rap into a heady acoustic string-band stew of hot licks and belly laughs. But for a band whose lyrical preoccupation with sex, drugs and booze led to albums with such titles as Nasty Novelties, Dirty Ditties and the Amsterdam-inspired Spanker Madness, an album of original children's music would have been low on the list of probabilities.

Though often delightfully juvenile in the past--earlier efforts such as "The Scrotum Song" spring to mind--the Spankers have never exactly purveyed kids music. Mommy Says No, while ostensibly a kids album full of songs about superheroes, closet monsters and training wheels, is eminently appealing to anyone who remembers their childhood.

Usually sultry and seductive songstress Christina Marrs plays against type and captures the innocent playfulness of children with the opening track "Be Like You," setting the tone for an album that stylistically covers the waterfront. Marrs' sweet voice also adds additional impact to the superhero love ballad "Sidekick." Marrs' coconspirator in fronting the Spankers, Wammo, leads the band through a handful of call-and-response tongue-twisters on "Lunchbox," kicks out the punk jams on the title track and explains what binds the universe together crooner-style on the hilariously over-the-top lounge jazz opus "Boogers."

Asked in an e-mail exchange what prompted the band to do a kids album, given their predilection for bawdiness, the ever sly singer and poetry slam champion wrote, "We figured people have been making kids to our records, so we might as well make one for the kids."

Wammo also doubled as producer and has done the band proud. Mommy Says No sounds crisp and warm, with a wagonload of smart musical touches, some subtle like the toy piano on "Be Like You," and others more obvious, such as the excellent use of Marrs' spooky musical saw on "Closet" and the romping New Orleans-style brass band led by clarinetist and longtime Spanker Stanley Smith. A compilation of Smith's best, Since I Met You Baby, will be released on the same label in September.

Instrumentally, the Spankers are in their usual superlative form, with relatively new member Sick showing off some serious fiddle and mandolin chops, and guitarist Nevada Newman indulging in some fancy, er...picking on "Boogers" and seizing the spotlight on the catchy "Super Frog."

If this album has a shortcoming, it may be that it's too cool for kids. But don't worry, they'll grow into it.

The Asylum Street Spankers will be touring Japan next month. (See Gig Guide.)


Highway Companion

Warner, 2,580 yen

There are plenty of nice jangly guitars on Tom Petty's third solo outing without the Heartbreakers and his first release since 2002's The Last DJ.

Highway Companion is built around a travel theme, with journeys--some mental, some emotional, some physical--providing the basis for each of the songs. While not as immediately catchy as Full Moon Fever or Wildflowers, the new album is more intimate and very much driven by Petty's guitar and raw voice. Former Traveling Wilburys bandmate Jeff Lynne has once again produced, but with more restraint this time around, letting Petty's simple guitar riffs and unpolished vocals stand on their own merits. Put the top down, crank up the volume and head out on the highway.

Special blog-only feature

God's favorite band
is coming to Japan

The Asylum Street Spankers will be making their triumphant return to the land of the rising sun in September. Quick, somebody call Kirin Breweries and tell them to start an extra couple of batches and book me a suite at the Betty Ford Clinic for October.

9.9.06 Saturday Sayama, Japan Hyde Park Music Festival
9.11.06 Monday Kanazawa, Japan Mokkiriya Jazz Bar
9.12.06 Tuesday Osaka, Japan Shinsaibashi Club Quattro
9.13.06 Wednesday Hiroshima, Japan Club Quattro
9.14.06 Thursday Kyoto, Japan Taku Taku
9.15.06 Friday Nagoya, Japan Tokuzo
9.17.06 Sunday Tokyo, Japan Shibuya Club Quattro
9.18.06 Monday Yokohama, Japan Thumbs Up

(Aug. 26, 2006)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Even broken clocks are right twice a day
Mark the day on the calendar, because you aren't likely to see me write anything praising WalMart very often, but they did the right thing this week in dumping former civil rights activist, UN ambassador and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young as a spokesman after he made unbelievably racist comments. Essentially, Young said it was a good thing that WalMart was squeezing out all the so-called mom-and-pop operations because those little shops were selling shoddy merchandise to blacks and were run by Jews, Koreans and Arabs. Young should be ashamed of himself for such bigoted bullshit and WalMart was right to end its relationship with him. Unless this becomes massive headline news, (which it won't as long as there are 10-year-old murder cases involving blond six-year-olds to obsess over) Wingnuts will use this to complain that the left doesn't police its own. Of course if Rush had said it and Walmart had fired his ass, they would screech "political correctness" until the cows came home or the chickens came home to roost or whatever.

Teh funny
What the wingnuts see when they see the New York Times