Stephen Grimstead, Editor
Turn Up That Noise
An eclectic survey of recent recordings.
Stephen Grimstead, Editor
Those Darn Accordions!, No Strings
Pity the poor accordion, the Rodney Dangerfield of musical instruments. Used mainly as a comic prop or object of derision, its function as an expressive and versatile mode of musical delivery has been obscured over the years. Although several alternative bands have restored some credence to the accordion in recent memory (most notably Brave Combo and They Might Be Giants), the true champions for the cause are the West Coast-based octet Those Darn Accordions!
Establishing their domain as a solid hybrid of traditional pop, polka, and the novelty factor (à la "Weird Al" Yankovic), Those Darn Accordions! show the world just what an accordion can do on their third release, No Strings Attached. Initiating a steady progression with their first recorded effort (a cassette-only release titled Vongole Fisarmonica) to their first full-length CD on Flying Fish (Squeeze This!), a sense of discovery and development continues on No Strings.
Armed with a battalion of six accordions backed by a guitarist and drummer, Those Darn Accordions! wiggle their way through a collection of 12 original and very witty songs, along with two inspired cover tunes. One hasn't really lived until hearing the dynamic accordion-driven version of The Who's "Baba O'Riley" (bonus points for choosing this one over the obvious Who number, that salacious ode to accordion playing, "Squeeze Box") and octogenarian Clyde Forsman's yearning and world-wise take on Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Highlights from their own repertoire include "Mothra," "Them Hippies Was Right," and "Deathbed Confession."
In addition to their extensive musical chops, Those Darn Accordions! also have a powerful visual impact as well, featuring a trio of slinky sirens among their number (Big Lou, Suzanne, and the airborne Patty).
This is one recording filled with good-natured humor where the novelty doesn't wear off, because there's a wealth of musical integrity behind it. Those Darn Accordions! are blazing a trail down a path that most fear to tread, and they're doing it with panache and aplomb. No Strings Attached is a perfect introduction to this unique band with an even-more unique sound, and you'll never hear an accordion quite the same way again. -- David D. Duncan
Corn Fed, NFFTF, (Resort Theory Media)
Time was when watching Corn Fed grind out generic and half-competent grunge in the general direction of thin, weeknight Antenna crowds would have led you to keep track of the band's lifespan in weeks, if not days. Years later, the local trio deserves credit for sticking it out through stunt-covering Hole songs to arrive at a sound that, while not entirely novel, at least gets its licks in.
Their debut, NFFTF, depicts power-punk overcoming itself as it incorporates the trappings of post-punk noise-art-fuzz. "Hot Pokers," for example, exemplifies where they're coming from with a backbone riff that is equal parts Sonic Youth's version of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and the Dead Kennedys' "Holiday in Cambodia," suggesting a loyalty to both smarty-pants hardcore and its destructors. Between the two, the standouts include the title track "No Favour For the Fashionable" (which sounds like Natalie Merchant mid-nervous breakdown); the Fallish call-and-response of "Colostomy Hag;" and the poppy lead-off "(I'm gonna rock you like) Nell Carter."
There are no real barn-burners here, however, and the undigested musical allusions to indie-geek avatars like Superchunk and Unrest belie the record's fine flashes of originality. Nonetheless, NFFTF is still solid enough to garner Corn Fed an award, at the very least, for perseverance. -- Jim Hanas
The Manhattan Transfer, Swing, (Atlantic)
HARDCORE JAZZBOS OFTEN disdain Manhattan Transfer's squeaky-clean renditions of covered and original material. But gee, there's just too much fun to be had on Swing to bother with such snootiness.
The drum-tight vocal quartet's latest is a seamless and unguardedly joyous celebration of swing classics, plucked from a list of their personal favorites. Manhattan T's trademark horn-sectionalized vocalese (along with adroit contributions from a distinguished array of guests -- Asleep At The Wheel, Mark O'Connor, Ricky Skaggs, Ray Brown, Stéphane Grappelli, Buddy Emmons, so on) make for one exceedingly enjoyable spin.
Swing features a hit parade of tunes and stylistic elements -- Scaled-down Big Band; Reinhardt/Grappelli Hot Club-echoed archtop guitar and gypsy violin; Ella-style scat; even a bit of Western Swing(ish) steel-guitar slinkage. Fletcher Henderson -- a truly monolithic figure in the storied history of great jazz arrangers (and pianist/composers, for that matter) -- posthumously provides much of the foundation for Manhattan Transfer's approach to the selected pieces, although there's a fairly healthy dose of what once passed for redneck influence happening here, in addition to the prerequisite urbanity. -- Stephen Grimstead