As they used to say in the old days: Now that’s
entertainment! And The Asylum Street Spankers are all about older musical
styles and stage performance modes, like a vaudeville or medicine show on acid.
Plus there are few acts today as deliciously entertaining in concert, which is
why this two-disc package documenting their live set recorded at New York’s Barrow Street
Theatre is the ultimate Spankers release. And as much fun as a barrel of
weed-toking, wisecracking musical monkeys.
The in between song patter, banter and tales here are
almost worth the price of admission alone. And then there’s the sprightly,
richly filigreed and delectable music, from classics they revivify like
“Everybody Loves My Baby” and “Big Noise From Winnetka” to their own songs in old school spirit like “Why Do It Right?” and “Asylum Street Blues.” And if
their folkie singalong on Black Flag’s “TV Party” doesn’t get you revved up and
chuckling, then you need some Viagra for your funny boner. Plus a lungful of
laughing gas makes the social commentary go down as well as stick to the ribs
of your political consciousness on tracks like the zesty “Winning The War on
Drugs” and bouncy “Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV” (which may well be the
sharpest song commentary by anyone on the inane Iraq war).
But don’t let the humor fool you. There’s some serious
musical shit going down here. The ensemble playing and singing is as tight as a
Vulcan death grip. Clarinetist Stanley Smith’s trickily mellifluous flights of
melodic fancy bring vivid splashes of neon color to the songs, and
singer/writer Wammo sucks and blows the harmonica – the people’s instrument too
many people “play” but really can’t – like an imaginative master on the order
of the great Toots Thielemans. And when singer Christina Marrs soars through
the chorus of “Amazing Grace” as a mere aside, one can’t help but be awed by
her potent pipes and concise delivery. And who else but the Spankers could even
get away with the suggestive double entendre of “You Only Love Me For My Lunch
Box” as a children’s music tune?
On the surface, it seems rather amazing that this
all-acoustic act that started as a small Austin club gathering of friends
renewing archaic styles for fun would have become a national act and ongoing
phenomenon – by now with a long list of alumni – with more than a decade and a half under its
belt. But on further consideration, this smart and cheeky troupe’s success is a
no brainer. Just give the people what they want and sometimes what they also
really need – gen-u-wine entertainment.
Tracks: “Everybody Loves My Baby,” “Stick Magnetic
Ribbons on Your SUV,” “Pakalolo Baby,” “Monkey Rag” ROB PATTERSON