New York Music Daily

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Tag: oldtime music

Another Creepy Masterpiece and a Bell House Show by O’Death

O’Death are one of those great bands who sound like no other group on the planet – and yet, they’re one of the most widely imitated acts around. Part Nashville gothic, part oldtimey, part circus rock and part noir cabaret, like all successful bands these days they make their living on the road. And they just had their tour van stolen – with all their gear in it. They’re in the midst of crowdsourcing an emergency fund to get some new gear, an effort that’s happily been pretty successful, but what’s been especially problematic is that the kind of vintage instruments they typically play aren’t available off the shelf. In the meantime, they’re got a characteristically excellent new album, Out Of Hands We Go – streaming at Northern Spy Records – and a New York show coming up at around 11 PM on Nov 14 at the Bell House. General admission is $15 – if there’s any band that could use your support right about now, it’s these guys.

Frontman/guitarist Greg Jamie’s voice is as menacingly quavery as ever, throughout a typical mix of creepy Edward Gorey-esque tableaux and disquietingly befuddling narratives. Arthur Lee is a frequent reference, especially on All Is Light, with its delicately orchestrated Forever Changes vibe, and the off-kilter Apple Moon, with its delicious blend of steel guitar and what sounds like a mellotron. Neil Young is another, most obviously on Go & Play with Your Dead Horses – but in this case it sounds like Neil Y on some obscure but powerful mushrooms.

The slowly shuffing Herd, which opens the album, takes the point of view of someone who’d like to stray – but Jamie only implies that. That’s what makes his songs so interesting – much as some of his images can be flat-out-ghoulish, he always draws the listener in with them. Likewise, the bluesy circus rock tune Wrong Time, which might or might not be about cannibalism, swaying its way up to a hypnotic Magical Mystery Tour psych-rock pulse.

“Maybe we’ll burn this house together and drag our corpses cross the floor,” Jamie muses on Roam, the hardest-rocking track here. “Like sleeping naked in the rain – wouldn’t have bothered anyone, but would have rendered me insane,” Jamie’s narrator nonchalantly intones on the understatedly morbid, Tom Warnick-esque Wait for Fire. The longest track here, We Had a Vision, blends layers of stark strings with Gabe Darling’s banjo and Jamie’s gracefully picked minor-key acoustic guitar.

“Don’t tell me I don’t know what I saw, crushed leaves on the morning fire – I’ve stoked all I can from your desire,” Jamie casually explains in the ominously dancing waltz Heal in the Howling. The most ornate, and arguably most menacing track here is Isavelle, a murder ballad fueled by Bob Pycior’s icepick violin. The album ends with another macabre waltz, its narrator pondering what to do with his victims – it brings to mind Bobby Vacant at his most uneasy. As usual, O’Death have turned in (dug up? exhumed?) yet another great album, one of the best of 2014. And if you want the band to make more, if you know of anyone who’s got a vehicle they could borrow to finish their East Coast tour, or who might be selling a decent quality used guitar amp, bass amp or maybe a bass head or cab, put them in touch with the band.

Kelley Swindall Puts an Edgy, Individualistic Spin on Classic Americana

One of the cool things about Kelley Swindall‘s new album – streaming at Spotify - is that she sings every song differently. The funny ones have a jaunty southern twang, something you might expect from someone who originally hails from Stone Mountain, Georgia. On the darker ones – and there’s plenty of darkness here – Swindall’s voice takes on a mix of Eartha Kitt growl and Nina Simone bite. She’s opening the Lorraine Leckie album release show with a set at 7 PM sharp at the Mercury on Nov 13; advance tix are $10 and going fast.

Another cool thing is how Swindall uses oldtime Americana as a springboard for her songwriting: the songs don’t feel constrained by a particular era or style. And they’re completely in the here and now. For example, the first of the talking blues numbers – a style that Swindall really likes – is a cross-country weed-smuggling tale. Like A Boy Named Sue, it’s got a surprise ending, but one that you don’t see coming a mile away.

The big crowd-pleaser, also a talking blues, is a murder ballad – with an ending that’s easier to see coming, but when Swindall delivers it, it’s still irresistible. The country ballad You Can Call Me Darlin’ If You Want T0 sounds like a love song on the surface, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. The restlessness is relentless in Swindall’s songwriting and this is a prime example.

Swindall’s elegant oldtime delta blues picking fuels the hauntingly brooding opening track, Sidewalk Closed, a noir tableau fleshed out with Matthew Albeck’s eerily reverberating dobro. On Your Own, a spare, stark, bluesy minor-key kiss-off ballad, begins with a more muted delivery, but then Swindall’s vocals rise to a defiant angst – it’s the first place on the album where she actually belts, and she makes it count.

Dear Savannah, a wistful reminiscence of a romance that in retrospect was doomed from the start, blends Swindall’s delicate fingerpicking and tersely bluesy harmonica, Stephanie Allen’s upright bass and more of that spooky bent-note work from Albeck. He Ain’t You sets vintage jazz-tinged guitar lead over a classic country waltz tune, with a lyric that when you think about it, is pretty vicious. And Swindall’s own My Minglewood Blues, inspired by the famous folk song, mashes up blues and bluegrass via guest Phil Harris’ banjo. The lone cover here is Ryan Morgan‘s Maricopa, AZ , which fits well with Swindall’s darker material, a noir soul song done oldtimey shuffle style with fingerpicked guitar and more biting Albeck slide playing – it wouldn’t be out of place in the Dina Rudeen songbook.

Swindall’s sense of humor goes beyond the songwriting. The album title, Pronounced kel-le swin-dl (more or less – the machine on which this is being typed doesn’t have the phonetic alphabet) is a Lynyrd Skynyrd pun. And the cd cover shot references Francoise Hardy, not something you’d typically see on an album of rustic Americana. Like another moody Americana songwriter recently covered here, Jessie Kilguss, Swindall draws on a theatrical background (which might have something to do with why she always sings in character): she’s a member of the edgy downtown production company The Amoralists.

Another Fun Album and a Jalopy Show by the Two Man Gentlemen Band

For about the past ten years, the Two Man Gentlemen Band – tenor guitarist Andy Bean and bassist Fuller Condon – have entertained crowds with their irrepressible, toe-tapping oldtimey sounds. Their previous album Two At a Time was a collection of drinking songs and will probably go down in history as a classic of its kind, if you buy the premise that drinking songs can be classic. Their latest release, aptly titled Enthusiastic Attempts At Hot Swing and String Band Favorites (streaming at Spotify), is a bit, um, more serious. Its unifying theme is old songs about US states and specific locales. Much as the two gents’ cred as connoisseurs of early swing, blues, jazz and hillbilly sounds is well known, the album is sort of a resume that you can dance to. It’s something a booking agent can use to score a gig at a fancy sit-down jazz club, and also something you can enjoy over cocktails at home without paying fancy sit-down jazz club prices. The two gentlemen – who are likely to be joined by other gentlemen onstage- have a gig coming up on Sept 26 at 9 PM at the Jalopy; cover is $15. It’s the obvious place to see these guys, not only since they’ll probably take advantage of the venue’s penchant for using a single, central onstage mic, just as the band recorded these songs, live to analog tape.

A lot of the songs here are ones you know, like the characteristically jaunty take of My Blue Heaven that opens the album. Back Home in Indiana is much the same; These Foolish Things, as you would expect, is more low-key, in a plaintive Matt Munisteri vein. The funniest track is Beale Street Mama, capped off with dixieland-flavored clarinet and banjo; the most surreal, and surprisingly, period-perfect number here is Chinatown, My Chinatown.

Time Changes Everything features cocktail drums – as do most of the songs here – along with mandolin and accordion. Likewise, Some of These Days also has acccordion on it, adding a Romany jazz edge. The shuffling Palm Springs Jump has wry trombone-ish vocalese and a flurrying Bean guitar solo. They do On the Sunny Side of the Street and I Can’t Give You Anything But Love as droll Gatsby swing crooner tunes, while Sweet Irene from Illinois bounces along with a rustic 20s string band feel.

There are also a trio of excellent instrumentals: a spiky swing through The Dallas Rag, a version of Jackson Stomp that’s so tight it ticks, and a lively take of East Tennessee Blues. All this further cements the group’s reputation as one of the most reliably fun vintage Americana acts out there.

The Howlin’ Brothers Hit the Rockwood With 100 Years of Americana

What does it say about the state of New York nightlife that this Sunday happens to be one of the most happening nights this week? Is that just luck of the draw, a lot of good bands passing through town? Or, as more and more of this city turns into a tourist trap (or a permanent-tourist trap) on the weekend, is this a a sign that venues and maybe artists as well have learned that there’s money to be made from an audience who will come out on an off-night just to get away from the fratboys and their fraturniture? You be the judge. One of the most enticing shows this weekend is at the big room at the Rockwood on Sunday night at 8 where the Howlin’ Brothers are playing for a $10 cover.

That eclectic, virtuosically fun Americana trio’s most recent New York show was out back of City Winery just before the 4th of July, on what turned out to be a rare, blisteringly hot evening (that night aside, has this summer been just about the best on record or what?) Unperturbed by the heat despite being suited up in hats and sturdy plowman’s attire, the band looked like they were the happiest guys on the planet. Then again, wouldn’t you be if you could make a living traveling all over the world playing country blues and bluegrass and getting paid for it?

And it wasn’t all good-time drinking or partying music, either. Fiddler/multi-instrumentalist Ian Craft, guitarist Jared Green and bassist Ben Plasse worked the dynamics back and forth, throughout a tuneful, dynamically and historically rich set that went on for over an hour. Plasse, as it turns out, is also an excellent guitarist: he took the night’s longest and most energetic solo on electric guitar, one of only a few songs on which the band wasn’t all-acoustic. Craft started out on fiddle and then switched to banjo – interestingly, it was when he played that antique instrument that the music sounded the least oldtimey. Then he switched to bass, singing no matter what he was playing, which isn’t exactly easy. Green strummed and flatpicked expertly and blended voices with rest of the crew, through a couple of sad waltzes from their new album Trouble and the more upbeat stuff, including a raucous take of Carl Perkins’ Dixie Fried, from the band’s ep The Sun Studio Session. That one left no doubt that it’s about getting drunk and stoned and high on whatever else – probably a lot of stuff – that the guys who were making records there were doing back in 1956. No wonder the early rockabilly artists got into so much trouble with redneck politicians on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.

A Great New Album and a Free Summer Concert by the Wiyos

The Wiyos were one of the best of the first wave of oldtimey Americana bands. Then they took an unexpected turn into psychedelic rock: their previous album, Twist, followed the plotline from the Wizard of Oz to places even trippier than the original. They’re back with a new album, One More for the Road (at Spotify - didn’t Lynyrd Skynyrd use that title at some point?) which reverts to the sound the Wiyos had mined so energetically in the beginning, but spiced with a harder-rocking edge. You could call it oldtimey stoner swing: some jump blues, some hillbilly boogie, some oldtime C&W as well as proto-rock sounds from around 1953, with funny and often very clever lyrics. Teddy Weber’s jaunty jazz-tinged guitar is the main instrument, although frontman/harmonica player Michael Farkas and bassist “Sauerkraut” Seth Travins (who has a side gig making that stuff) get plenty of space to contribute too. They’ve got a free concert coming up on July 17 at 7 PM at Wagner Park, just north and west of Battery Park: take the train to the Battery and just walk up the west side along the water and you can’t miss it.

The album’s opening track, Ride the Rails sets the tone with an upbeat, summery sway, purposeful trumpet mingling with laid-back accordion. Milwaukee Blues is another hobo song. “One wonderful day, MTA said you have to pay…I’m heading west,” Farkas asserts. “Way up in Jersey they’re talking smack, don’t look at your brother pissing on your back.” Milwaukee, here we come!

They follow that with a fingerpicked tribute to John Hartford that starts out serious but gets really, really funny with some droll muted trumpet and harmonica as the song hits a stomping peak. Seventeen Cars, with its torrential, tongue-in-cheek lyrics and elegant, jazzy guitar, goes for a pre-rockabilly vibe. The album’s most acerbic song, 1982, takes a spot-on swipe at the first wave of trendoids whose obsession with kitsch came to a limp climax with Portlandia and gentrifier twee-topias like Bushwick and Williamsburg, ad nauseum.

Radio Flyer could be an outtake from the psychedelic record: with its neat series of tradeoffs at the end and biting low-register guitar, it’s the album’s most musically edgy and interesting number. They wind up with Sauerkraut, another gut-bustingly funny tune about a girl who just can’t get enough of that salty stuff: the jokes fly fast and furious and they’re too good to spoil. And is that a muted trumpet, or a kazoo? Little instrumental touches like that make the songs even funnier. You can expect some smoke on the water just north of the Battery on the 17th.

Marah Reinvents an Amazing Collection of Obscure Pennsylvania Folk Songs

There’s a serious imbalance of folk music in this country: so much of what we hear is from the southern states. But there’s tons of great old songs from the northeast as well, which so often get overlooked. Credit Marah for rediscovering a whole slew of them and presenting them in a ramshackle, aptly high-energy package titled Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania, streaming at Spotify. All these songs were originally collected over one hundred years ago by musicologist Henry Shoemaker; this is the first full-length recording based exclusively on the lyrics he collected throughout the region. Marah do here what Wilco did with Woody Guthrie, setting (and sometimes rearranging) the words to a mix of period-perfect folk melodies livened with harder-rocking and sometimes more modern arrangements. The band are going to air them out at Bowery Electric on July 12 at around 10:30; edgy, lyrically-driven, 90s-style alt-country band Butchers Blind open at 9:30 or so.

Marah have earned plenty of props for their meat-and-potatoes, four-on-the-floor rock anthems, but as it turns out they’re just as good at roots music from their home state. There are no sizzling solos or virtuoso moments in these songs: instead, the band seems to be shooting for the sound of a raw, celebratory family band, employing the usual Americana string band instrumentation in addition to dulcimer, glockenspiel, tuba, simple drums and piano along with occasional electric guitar that adds an offcenter psychedelic edge.

The album opens with a joyously swaying one-chord timber-cutting jam of sorts with fiddle, harmonica, banjo and jaw harp: “Prepare for the shanty life before your health declines,” singer David Bielanko insists. A Melody of Rain shuffles along witha brisk 60s pop feel – it’s the least archaic of all the songs here. The album’s hardest-rocking number, An Old Times Plaint offers more than a hint of circus rock, bringing to mind recent adventures in that style by M Shanghai String Band.

With its unabashedly romantic strings, insistent piano and harmonica, the most lushly orchestrated number is Luliana, a wistful love ballad: “If I could be anyone but myself, I would be the one who stands beside her,” the narrator affirms. By contrast, Sing O Muse of the Mountain is another mostly one-chord jam, akin to the White Light White Heat-era Velvets doing a Pennsylvania folk tune.

Glockenspiel and pump organ double each other, a la Springsteen, on Ten Cents at the Gate, which veers unexpectedly from country gospel to eerily phantasmagorical rock. Mountain Minstrelsy has the album’s most regionally-specific lyric set to a warmly catchy midtempo sway. A sad, vividly resigned waltz, The Old Riverman’s Regret looks back nostalgically on 19th century commercial river rafting. The album winds up with a raggedly rustic dance instrumental. There’s also a shambling, punk blues-inflected track and a brief, skeletal stab at a Celtic-tinged anthem. The way the album was recorded – live, in a Millheim, Pennsylvania church with lots of natural reverb – more than suggests that Marah has a great time onstage with these songs.

Catherine Russell Brings Back the Blues and Jazz Roots of Classic Soul

The first time anybody at this blog saw Catherine Russell, it was about three in the morning and she was belting her heart out over a tight funk band called the Pleasure Unit, who would later become somewhat better known as TV on the Radio. In the fourteen years since then, she’s become one of the biggest names in oldtime swing jazz. Her previous album, Strictly Romancin’, was a Louis Armstrong tribute (Russell’s multi-instrumentalist dad Luis played in Armstrong’s band: the apple didn’t fall far). Her latest album, Bring It Back, goes deeper into the blues, in a Duke Ellington way. Harmonia Mundi gets credit for releasing the album, which is up at Spotify.

The band lineup is pretty much the same as the previous album: musical director Matt Munisteri on guitar and other fretted instruments; Mark Shane on piano; Lee Hudson on bass; Mark McClean on drums; Glenn Patscha on organ; Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet; Mark Lopeman on baritone sax; John Allred on trombone; and Dan Block and Andy Farber on reeds. Other than just the pure chops they bring to the songs, the way the both Russell and the band shift direction depending on the underlying emotional content is what distinguishes them from the legions of shi-shi restaurant bands and cruise ship combos who try to make a go of this oldtime stuff. The arrangements may be refined to the nth degree, but the group’s approach to the songs’ heartbreak and intensity (and sometimes just plain good fun) is disarmingly direct.

The album opens with the catchy midtempo title track, Russell’s urbane sophistication balanced way out on a limb by Munisteri’s unexpectedly feral, wildly string-bending guitar, confronting the angst that the vocals refuse to give in to. “High” is the operative word in Shooting High, with its elegant handoffs from one instrument to the next. The steady, shady I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart matches muted trumpet and somewhat furtive sax to the wistfulness and resignation in Russell’s understatedly torchy delivery. Then they pick up the pace with the jaunty, dixieland-flavored You Got to Swing and Sway.

The band does Aged and Mellow as an oldschool soul ballad in the same vein as Willie Nelson’s Night Life – Russell doesn’t let on how the story’s actually being told by a gold-digger. They keep the high spirits going with the nonchalantly triumphant, shuffling Darktown Strutters’ Ball and then hit a peak with a big, brassy arrangement of Lucille (not the B.B. King song but a previously unreleased, exuberant number by Russell’s dad).

Russell’s most pillowy vocal here is You’ve Got Me Under Your Thumb, set to a ragtime-tinged piano-and-guitar backdrop. After the Lights Go Down, a gorgeous blend of oldschool soul and blues, sets Russell’s confidently conspiratorial vocals against wickedly shivery guitar and organ. I’m Sticking With You Baby, a litany of prewar aphorisms, has more invigorating, bluesy organ, Russell trading bars with the band as they take it all the way up at the end.

The minor-key, irony-drenched, ragtime-inflected Strange As It Seems makes a stark contrast. The jump blues Public Melody Number One picks up the pace again, with an absolutely surreal lyric:

Frankenstein, a bundle of joy
Jesse James is a teacher’s pet
A gatling gun compared to
Shots from a hot corvette

The album ends with an absolutely riveting, unexpectedly energetic version of the old Billie Holiday standard I Cover the Waterfront, rising and falling with an angst that dignifies the neighborhood hooker and her ache for the guy who’s gone away across the ocean, no doubt for good. On one level, this is a trip back in time; on another, a lot of the playing here is more eclectic than what your typical studio band would try to pull off in, say, 1934.

The Hot Club of Cowtown: Sizzling Chops, Soulful Playing

The Hot Club of Cowtown‘s name pretty much says it all. Over the years, they’ve put a jaunty Djangoesque jolt into western swing. Their latest album, Rendezvous in Rhythm finds the trio going deeper into the Romany side of their music than ever before, with rewarding results. Otherwise, the interplay between Whit Smith’s guitar and Elana James’ violin is as lively and bracing as always, and the personalities haven’t changed:  Smith the suave crooner and James the coy and often devious jazzkitten, with Jake Erwin providing a resolute, rock-solid foundation on bass. They’re at Subculture on April 2 at 8 PM; $20 advance tix are recommended.

The songs are equal part sizzle and soul, perfectly encapsulized by the album’s opening track, a version of the old Russian folk song Dark Eyes that nonchalantly speeds up until the band essentially comes full circle, guitar eventually giving way to shivery violin.The rest of the songs are a mix of mostly familiar hot jazz standards along with a handful of lesser-known tunes, all rearranged with the band’s edgy panache. A low-key take of I’m in the Mood for Love is the most traditional of those numbers. Melancholy Baby gets a slow, comfortable intro and then some snazzily ornamented violin phrasing. James sings Crazy Rhythm with a Prohibition-era sass, Smith’s guitar taking the song forward about thirty years before another goosebump-inducing violin solo.

Which came first: Til There Was You, or If I Had You? That’s the question raised by the band’s version of the latter, James’ precise, breathy delivery bringing to mind Meg Reichardt of Les Chauds Lapins. The Continental, a tune for all the cutters on the dancefloor, contrasts soaring violin with the guitar’s mutedly flurrying, swinging pulse.

Sweet Sue Just You gets a bouncy swing treatment where Smith sounds like he’s about to jump out of his shoes before James introduces a comforting calm on the second verse. A midtempo take of I’m Confessin has the guitar artfully mimicking the violin’s eerily shimmery, insistently staccato lines. James sings Slow Boat to China with the sly determination of a woman hell-bent on a hookup, the guitar and then the vocals really picking it up as it winds out – she distinguishes herself not only as an imaginative, counterintuitive violinist but also as a singer here. Sunshine of Your Smile is the closest thing here to the Texas/Oklahoma swing that the band made a name themselves with.

There are a couple of Al Jolson songs here: Avalon, a Romany jazz take on roaring 20s vaudeville pop, with a characteristically spiraling guitar solo as the high point, and Back in Your Backyard, with its tight violin/guitar harmonies. And the two strongest tracks might be the Django covers. Lots of bands do Minor Swing, or for that matter, a lot of familiar Django Reinhardt songs with a frantic, uptight beat, but these folks swing the hell out of the song, the swirls and restlessness of the violin handing off elegantly to Smith’s snarling, spiky chordal attack. And the minor blues Douce Ambiance is more like more Ambiance Amère, James’ violin bringing in a welcome, raw, chromatically-fueled intensity as the band races through to an abrupt, cold ending. Who is the audience for this? It’s more straight-up jazz-oriented than the rest of the band’s catalog, but it’s just as accessible and tuneful. This band has come a long way since the days back in the 90s and early zeros when their usual stop in Manhattan was Rodeo Bar.

The Devil Makes Three’s New Album: Darker and Funnier Than Ever

High-energy Santa Cruz, California Americana trio the Devil Makes Three‘s incendiary live shows have won them a rabid following on the road, coast to coast. Their latest album, I’m a Stranger Here picks right up where their 2009 release Do Wrong Right left off, but with a darker and more surreal, somewhat harder-rocking edge. This time around, guitarist Pete Bernhard, upright bassist Lucia Turino and guitarist/tenor banjo player Cooper McBean add jazz and bluegrass overtones by including violin and a horn section on a handful of tracks. Americana guitar legend Buddy Miller’s production artfully blends in the new textures without losing the band’s distinctively feral sound.

The title track opens the album. It’s a briskly bouncing minor-key country blues tune with a bit of a woozy stoner hip-hop tinge. It’s also a party anthem: “We’ve come to wake the dead…we get along like an alcohol fire.” Amen to that. Worse or Better puts a 21st century update on oldtime hellfire blues – it’s a shambling out-of-captivity story with a tasty guitar/violin break midway through. Likewise, Forty Days adds a wryly bluesy, dixieland-spiced, grimly humorous spin to the Noah/Ark myth.

The slow, rustic banjo waltz A Moment’s Rest contemplates the kind of moments when the pressure gets to the point where you “gotta swim to the bottom to keep from bursting into flames.” Dead Body Moving, unlike what the title might imply, picks up the pace, a morbidly bluegrass-flavored drifter’s tale: this guy’s already seen the afterlife, he claims, and it’s not pretty. Hallelu works a cynically funny faux-gospel vein: “They say Jesus is coming, he must be walking, he sure ain’t running, who can blame him, look how we done him.”

Hand Back Down takes an unexpected detour into surrealist stoner swamp rock:

Headlights burn like torches on the way to a war
Tell me what it was that we were fighting for
Who is this god to which we sacrifice
I say whatever he wants we better give it to him twice

Spinning Like a Top celebrates a lifetime of chewing shrooms, smoking weed and selling it, with a typically amusing, clever barrage of mixed metaphors from across the decades. Mr. Midnight shuffles along with a considerably more cynical view of the reality of life on the fringes. The album winds up with the slow, creepy Nashville gothic murder ballad Goodbye Old Friends. Much as these guys have a reputation as a party band, this music is awfully smart. Not bad for a bunch of stoner country guys, huh? They’re currently on west coast tour; the next stop is at the Mateel Community Center, 59 Rusk Lane in Redway, California on Feb 4; advance tix are $20.

Lushly Eclectic Oldtimey Stoner Swing from the Jitterbug Vipers

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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