Lushly Eclectic Oldtimey Stoner Swing from the Jitterbug Vipers

by delarue

A big draw in their native Texas, the Jitterbug Vipers play songs that sound like classics from the 1930s…except that they’re originals. True to their name, the band’s songs are great for dancing, and as oldtime stoner music goes, few other groups compare: the Moonlighters, or the late, great Asylum Street Spankers come to mind. These vipers have a new album out, Phoebe’s Dream, which sets Sarah Sharp’s sultry, period-perfect vocals floating over the slinky groove of bassist Francie Meaux Jeaux and nimble drummer Masumi Jones, guitar monster Slim Richey channeling a century’s worth of classic jazz and swing tradition with a deviously eclectic, bristling attack that’s all his own.

The briskly shuffling title track recounts the story of Big Phoebe, who “tried to smoke her way into heaven, but they turned her back around” – and then she takes matters (i.e. more ganja) into her own hands. A Viper Just the Same tells a familiar tale in an oldtime vernacular: a stoner can spot another stoner from a long ways away. What’s especially cool about this song is how they switch the rhythm from a bolero to straight-up swing, and then back, fueled by Richey’s unexpectedly skronky guitar solo.

Stuff It, a co-write with Elizabeth McQueen from Asleep at the Wheel, has the sardonic wit of a classic, dismissive Mae West insult song. When You’re High is an unselfconsciously pretty, aptly balmy number that could be interpreted as a love ballad…but you know better. Dangerous stakes out some Romany jazz territory, a tribute to an irrepressible guy with fast fingers and “a bag of tricks, from mushroom soup to tortoiseshell picks.”

Richey kicks off Viper Moon as a lullaby that recalls Les Paul, then they take it in a bossa nova direction – it’s another stoner love song. Sharp saves her most pillowy vocal for the ethereally bluesy ballad Trouble; they follow that with the instrumental Django’s Birthday, a showcase for Richey’s agile Romany-style fretwork.

Along with all the weed-smoking numbers, the band also includes one for the drinkers, the tongue-in-cheek stroll That Was Just the Sauce Talking. There are also a couple of covers. They reinvent the 1939 Ella Fitzgerald hit Undecided as western swing – with what sounds like a quote from the Simpsons theme? And they give Billie’s Blues an expansive Stormy Monday treatment, with some wickedly cool, boomy brushwork from Jones. The Vipers’ next hometown gig is on Jan 29 at Lambert’s, 401 W 2nd St. in Austin.

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