Asylum Street Spankers – Mercurial (2004)

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by Tom Johnson

Spinning up Mercurial was like jumping in a time machine set for somewhere around 60-75 years ago. The Asylum Street Spankers bravely blazed their own trail far outside of mainstream music, offering pre-Charlie Parker swing jazz and jump-blues that once kept the flappers cavorting across dancefloors all night long. And they were churning them out out at an amazing rate; eight albums in as many years, to this point.

They may play like it’s the ’30s, but their own material, mixed with many era-appropriate songs, was peppered with modern pop-culture references — and they even do a couple of amazing covers, the best of which is a spot-on early jazz take on the Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere.” If you’re an open-minded Beastie fan, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard this hilarious, fun take on their Licensed To Ill classic. The second modern cover is of the B-52s’ “Dance This Mess Around.” Vocalist Christina Marrs mimics Kate Peirson’s distinctive wail, but it’s harmonica/washboard/etc. and vocalist Wammo who’ll devastate you with his dead-on deadpan of Fred Schneider during the chorus.

If it sounds fun, in spots it’s actually hilariously fun — and, in general, I think for the right person it probably is great fun. For me, however, it grew tiresome pretty quickly. It is so time-period accurate that I found myself yearning for the band to open up, to really take these formal arrangements and let them loose — like Parker did.

That’s where my interest in jazz begins, with Charlie Parker’s incendiary soloing, his refusal to stay within the tight confines of a song. Despite the fun and attitude present in droves in the ranks of the Spankers, I simply found my interest waining. Don’t take that as a terribly negative review, however, because this band is incredibly talented. It just needs to be appreciated by a very specific audience.

Those into swing music, this is the stuff for you.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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