Chandler Travis Philharmonic – Chandler Travis Philharmonic Blows! (2010)

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by Mark Saleski

When I was a little kid, we used to take vacations out on Cape Cod. Back then there was a target ship anchored out in the bay, the SS James Longstreet. There was something both creepy and majestic about that ship. Of course, the boy in me wanted to walk out there at low tide. Me & my cousins tried it once, but when the water became waist deep we gave up. What the heck. It was good clean summer fun.

This has almost nothing to do with the Chandler Travis Philharmonic, except for one thing — Mr. Travis is from Eastham, Massachusetts — right out there on the Cape. I’d be willing to bet that on one of those warm summer nights, while I was sitting out on the dunes watching the bombers take aim at the Longstreet, Chandler Travis was having his own summer fun with one of his early bands, The St. James Infirmary or (later on) Travis Shook and the Club Wow.

I was too young to have been aware of the goings on in the rock & roll world, but Travis’ next gig was too big to ignore. Living in southern New Hampshire in the mid-1980’s, it was pretty much impossible to avoid The Incredible Casuals. They played everywhere, they played often. They pretty much took over the Beachcomber in Wellfleet. How I managed to never see a show is beyond me. Maybe I was unaware of the NRBQ connection (Johnny Spampinato was their guitar player until he joined his brother Joey in the Q after Big Al Anderson left). Maybe I was just too young to appreciate music that didn’t sound like a chain saw. Maybe I was just stupid!

After a period of transition, Travis formed the Chandler Travis Philharmonic. Blows! is the followup to their first record Let’s Have A Pancake, released in the year 2000. And what a run record it is. An eight-piece band with a full horn section, the Philharmonic is like no big band you’ve ever heard. There’s R&B, jazz, some lopsided Dixieland, blues, and rock & roll. Best of all, this stuff is just hilarious! From the opening stomp of “Mid-Morning In Moscow,” to the crazy Casuals travelogue of “The Day The Casuals Went To Sweden,” the album is relentless in reminding the listener that serious music (whatever that means) doesn’t have to be, well…serious!

There’s no way I can pick a favorite track here. I mean, how do you weigh the New Orleans strut of “Tomatohead Blues” against the bittersweet “You And Me, Pushing Up Daisies”? And then there’s the sly look at an attractive neighbor in “Anne.” Do I take her (the protagonist sorta wants to) over the NRBQ-ish goofy fun of “The Number Song”? In truth, I can’t…because the deliciously silly pop of “Fruit Bat Fun” (the song’s only lyrics: “Fruit Bat”) makes me giddy.


And so yes, I have no Cape Cod history with Chandler Travis and his music. At least not in a direct way. But that’s part of the fun of music. The cliché is that music is a part of our lives, but often it’s more than that: there’s the music, its history, your history, and what could have been. Do I think of it as a missed opportunity? Nah! C’mon, we almost made it out to that ship!


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