Legendary Oldtimey Band the Squirrel Nut Zippers Play a Rare Outdoor New York Show this Friday
The world’s best-loved and arguably most influential oldtimey band, the Squirrel Nut Zippers are playing Friday night, July 15 at 7 PM at Bryant Park. Much as there’s been a lot of furnover in the group over the years, this is a bucket-list show for people who were too young to see them during their heyday back in the 90s. So if you want to get close to the stage, you might want to show up early.
The crew on their most recent album The Lost Songs Of Doc Souchon – streaming at Bandcamp – is not the one that busted out of Chapel Hill in the mid-80s. But founding member Jimbo Mathus – who became part of New York music history for his turn onstage on closing night at legendary East Village institution Lakeside Lounge – still fronts the band. And much as they spearheaded the oldtime swing revival, that was hardly the only style they played: their first big hit, Hell, was a calypso song.
The opening track on the album is a cover of Jelly Roll Morton’s Animule Ball that starts out like a Cab Calloway hi-de-ho tune, then the band go straight into New Orleans, Mathus goes into sarcastic crooner mode as the band reinvent the odious Frankie Valli hit Can’t Take My Eyes Off You as a noir bolero, complete with Boulevard of Broken Dreams strings and creepy tinkling piano.
Cella Blue takes over the mic on the blues She’s Ballin’ as Mathus’ guitar scrambles and slashes, saxophonist Henry Westmoreland’s solo followed by some snazzy Jerry Lee playing from pianist Leslie Martin over the brassy backdrop from trumpeter Dave Boswell and trombonist Eddie Lehwald.
Mathus switches to banjo, joining forces with Dr. Sick’s mysterious fiddle and Martin’s funeral organ for the Appalachian gothic tune Train on Fire. Sarcasm reaches a slow burn as Mathus sings a deadpan version of the piano ballad Mr. Wonderful.
The band follow the twisted Louis Jordan-style narrative of I Talk To My Haircut with the album’s longest song, Purim Nigrum, a strutting klezmer jam with a blistering dixieland brass raveup. It’s the best song on the record.
Drummer Neilson Bernard and bassist John Kveen give a fat swinging bottom to Cookie, a sly hokum blues where Mathus can’t resist cracking a smile. The band’s ska-flavored cover of Happy Days Are Here Again comes across as the most sarcastic song on the record – although it seems they recorded it before the 2020 totalitarian takeover. They close the with Cella Blue taking over vocals on the elegant string band tune Summer Longings.