Squeeze-bot

Before the electric guitar ruined rock and roll….

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange

Available from CD Baby.

A band comprised of banjo, tuba, accordion, and drums?!?! Man, I had to hear that! Then I looked to the song roster: covers of Monk, Boy George, Keith Jarrett, Aerosmith…what the hell was going on? Of course, the entire idea turned out to be as bizarrely cool as the very chutzpah to even try it suggested, the lads here being some kind of mental ward escapees…and, uh, ya gotta be a little unhinged yourself to follow the fragmented nature of it all.

As would be expected, especially given the prevalence of jazz cuts, the point here is to jam, goof, riff away, and see if it could work. Should you be familiar with Bill Frisell’s and others’ stabs in this direction, you already know it can but that the results will often be strange, way off what most would easily take to. Much here is challenging but a surprising amount is charming, like the cover of Don’t Dream It’s Over.

The opener, Monk’s Dream, demonstrates how melodic the ensemble can be but soon comes down into episodic breakdowns, each instrument parsing elements into variations until the tune’s almost lost…and then skillfully rescued. Brandon Johnson is the true rhythmic tie with his basso tuba, drummer Jason Tiemann seconding him but also fiercely in the improv fray, alternating between metronomic and swingin’. Todd Hildreth’s accordion and Mick Sullivan’s banjo are the most frequent lead voices, and if anyone has ever doubted the squeezebox is a mega-sophisticated harmonica by way of a handcranked organ, this CD will put that to rest.

The take on Jarrett’s The Windup is an excellent exposition of solo and ensemble tear-downs, Hildreth going way out on a limb before picking up the fragments and gluing the song back together. The Who’sBehind Blue Eyes suffers a bit from overuse of a clamped cymbal but gets rockin’, while several of the jazz cuts sing like a bird. As said, the contrast between the band floating and abstractly splintering can be chasmic but fascinating, hints of Carl Stalling and Vic Mizzy sidling in. In any event, it all works but is not exactly radio KHIT material, know what I mean?

Track List:

  1. Monk’s Dream (Thelonius Monk)
  2. Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? (Boy George)
  3. The Windup (Keith Jarrett)
  4. Behind Blue Eyes (Pete Townshend)
  5. So Sue Me (John Scofield)
  6. Between the Bars (Elliot Smith)
  7. Walk This Way (Tyler / Perry)
  8. What Was (Chick Corea)
  9. Don’t Dream It’s Over (Neil Finn)
  10. I Mean You (Thelonius Monk)
  11. Contemplation (Arthur Blythe)
  12. Well You Needn’t (Thelonius Monk)
  13. Cab Driven (C. Carson Parks)