(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Concert Review - Charlie Hunter

26 February 2009, Aggie Theater (Ft. Collins, CO)

If you've never seen Charlie Hunter play live, you're missing out on a chance to blow your mind. He's the kind of player that tortures other musicians, trapping them between incurable jealousy and jaw dropping amazement. But even if you're not a musician, you'll be stunned by what he pulls off with a single instrument. He plays a very special 7 string guitar with 3 bass guitar strings and 4 electric guitar strings. He's built a mind boggling technique of playing both bass lines and chords (or chord melody or leads) all at the same time, more or less independently. This kind of idea isn't so strange; keyboard players do something similar as a matter of course. But the intricacies of making this fit the geometry of the fretboard combined with the complex dual part arrangements make him a true virtuoso. If you just listen, you would assume it's two separate players. That's why you need to see him. I can only apologize that my pictures don't capture this clearly enough.

Charlie's just released a new album, Baboon Strength, and this is the first leg of his tour supporting that album. Last time he came through town, he had a trio. This time it's a quartet with Eric Kalb (drums), Eric Biondo (trumpet) and Cochemea Gastelum (baritone sax). These guys are all very talented and they've each worked with some great names in music. I thought I'd miss the keyboards but the horns added a unique element to the night. I met Eric K. before the show and he talked about being excited to play the first night of this tour for us. The material was still new enough that he spent some of his pre-show time to listen to Baboon Strength again to get ready. Even so, they sounded spot on for the whole night.

When the band came out and got set up, Charlie exclaimed, "I'm ready to sin in the name of music!". This was just an aside, not even on the mike, but the crowd responded. The song kicked off with a fast, angular riff that transitioned into a slower, more open groove. The next song was a nice bluesy number, which was fairly typical for the night. Lots of tight bass lines along with some singing harmonics (bending them, too). With so much of this music improvised, communication between the band is vital. Watching the eye contact, nods, and signals was a lesson in how to manage this.

The freshness of the material was reflected in the set list. At least a couple of songs were just built on the fly with a quick call like, "Follow me. Dm." Overall, there were a lot of blues
songs but there were still some reflective, slow jazz numbers, where the trumpet and sax could really get expressive. There were also some more upbeat funk and jam songs. I recognized some of the material from his last album, Mistico. One of these, Spoken Word, was one of the zaniest moments in the show. The song has this insistent riff that builds and then drops out leaving space for a drum solo. Then it ends with a count off back into the riff -- sort of "lather, rinse, repeat". Eric K milked this for all he could get. The first solo was pretty normal but the second started out incredibly spare with barely a hit or two. Then he erupted. During another solo section, Eric was playing in an odd time signature, getting more and more out there. He called out to the crowd, "Keep Dancing!" Right. Then, one, two, three, four... and back in.

My favorite part of the second set was a track off the new disk called Abadaba. This was a moody song with the horns providing a hint of a carnival sound. Maybe a little bit of Oingo Boingo in there. As the intensity grew into a funk vibe, Charlie called out, "We are so dirty!" They threw in a little reference to Suzanne Vega's Tom's Diner at the end and it even made musical sense somehow. A close second moment was his version of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues. Charlie drove through that tune and didn't look back for a second.

Throughout the night, Charlie and the band were having all kinds of fun. Charlie grimaced, laughed, and mugged for the audience (now I understand "white man's overbite;-).

The encore was a solo blues tune without the band, which let Charlie strut his stuff. It was a great ending.

In the course of the evening, I had an epiphany that shifted my thinking about Charlie. I've always thought of him as a talented guitarist who happens to play bass at the same time. Tonight flipped that on its ear: he's a brilliant bassist who can play guitar at the same time. The difference was clear watching him work with the band. As a bass player, he pulled the grooves together with the drums, coaxing the beat into position. Then, he'd turn and swap bass riffs with the baritone sax, where each would fill the other's musical spaces. Even though he was maintaining his chording or his leads at the same time, he was always thinking like a bass player. I've come to believe that's the key to understanding his approach.

What a night. Pour me some bourbon on the rocks and let's just sit back in awe.

Monday, February 23, 2009

CD Review - Dengue Fever, Venus on Earth

There is a particular joy in finding a new band and having it open up a world. It's no great surprise that the band Dengue Fever never quite showed up on my radar. Even though they started to get a little bit of national attention last year, they weren't any kind of household name. So, having a friend turn me on to them has turned out to be a very happy accident (thanks, Tommy).

Brothers Zac and Ethan Holztman put this band together after traveling to Cambodia. They managed to assemble a very interesting group of musicians, centered around an ex-patriot Cambodian singer, Chhom Nimol, who was fairly well known back home. Prior to this album, I wasn't familiar with the retro Cambodian pop music that they're expanding on but I've come to learn that it came about as a result of exposure to Western rock music during the Viet Nam war merging together with more traditional Cambodian sounds. By 1975, though, much of this music was destroyed by the Pol Pot regime.

That's enough of a history lesson to give this album some context. The sound is very much an amalgam of psychedelic surf guitar, 60's era cocktail jazz, and exotic Asian melodies. All of this comes together into a real moody musical mix. The unique factor is Nimol's voice, which has such a cool sound. She sings in an ethereal soprano, with a haunting vulnerability that grabs your ear even if you don't understand the Khmer lyrics. This whole album is full of gems.

My favorite track is the first one, Seeing Hands, which is a Pink Floyd-like raga groove: Indian mixed with psychedelia with Nimol's chanting over the top. The reverby guitar and bass drive this on, building repetition into a truly intense trip. Washes of keyboard and a brief baritone sax solo are just icing. My biggest regret is that it's not longer - this could easily expand into a Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun extended jam.

From there, we drift through Bond movie spy music, mid 60's surf sounds, and more Indian/Asian scales. The guitars are drenched in reverb, the farfisa organ wheezes, it's really a wonderful sound. The songs lyrics drift between Khmer and English, with a couple of duets. Tiger Phone Card reminds me a bit of Boy Genius (When We're Famous from Don't Fear the Reverb), especially in Zac's vocals. Lyrically, it deals with a long distance relationship: "...you only call me when you're drunk..."

Actually, a number of the songs had elements that reminded me of other classic songs of the era, like Laugh Track referencing Telstar by the Tornados or Tooth and Nail having a bit of Bowie's Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud. Monsoon of Perfume doesn't reach back quite as far when it reminds you of Hotel California. Despite these minor similarities, the album has a consistently original feel. If you like the garage band surf sound and moody introspective vocals, you should check this out. Dengue Fever is my new favorite band for a while.

If I were going to pick the drinks based on location, I'd have to say some kind of warm light lager on a hot night but that doesn't really fit. The hot night is good but the right beverage is the Belgian Pauwel Kwak, which is a complex, spicy beer.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Concert Review - W-MOB, Greyboy Allstars

19 February 2009, Aggie Theater (Ft. Collins, CO)

We are really lucky here in Ft. Collins. While the arena shows are down in Denver, we still get some incredible musicians passing through. Especially on the jazz and jam scene. Karl Denson has come through town before with his trio but this time, he brought his band, the Greyboy Allstars. This is a band that did much of its recording in the 90's but they've released new music again in the last couple of years. The break is understandable because Denson is so busy. He's got the Karl Denson Trio, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, and the Greyboy Allstars. Plus he's played with Lenny Kravitz, Stanton Moore and many others.


The opening act was a local band called W-MOB (White Man Over Bite). I had never heard them but they grew out of another local funk band, 3 Peas. W-MOB bills itself as a pure funk band. Sure, the funk is definitely there... along with some smooth jazz, great fusion playing and even some more progressive jazz influences. They played as a four piece with a guitar driven sound, some frenetic keyboard work, a good solid bass line, and a very funk-centric drum beat.

Their opening song was a bluesy funk that reminded me of Stanton Moore's trio work. Great syncopation and tight repeated riffs. The jump to the second song took things down a bit into more of a smooth jazz sort of sound, which didn't quite work as well for me. The playing was fine but the mood shift was jarring. The third number took us back to a solid jazz setting that served as a base for building up some nice, Jeff Beck era guitar work (think Blow By Blow). The header and bridge had a cool Arabic sounding riff that really pulled in the funk. This song alone was good enough to show why W-Mob should be opening for the Greyboy Allstars. The last song closed with some more riff centered jazz with bluesy breakdown. The keyboard riffs gave this a little bit of a Stevie Wonder groove.

That's something I really liked. Even though the band has such a strong guitar presence, the keys really open this up and bring a lot of energy into the mix. The bass is not overly ornamental but it propels the funk appropriately. There was some really nice snare work, too. This is a fairly tight quartet and I'm really looking forward to catching them again. Unfortunately, they don't have a CD yet, but that will change, I'm sure.

The Greyboy Allstars

First of all, the Greyboy Allstars are not just a backing band for Karl Denson. They are all fine players. The line up is Elgin Park (Michael Andrews) on guitar, Robert Walter on keys, Chris Stillwell on bass, and Aaron Redfield on drums. These guys have played with a lot of the preeminent jazz players out there and Walter and Park have both done soundtrack work, too. In this configuration, they all bring important skills to the band. Denson may be front and center but this is a real band where everyone gets their chance to step up.

The show kicked off with a celebratory groove. There was a lot of byplay between the keys and the guitar. Right away, it's clear that this is a well balanced team. The hand-offs are very smooth -- they make everything look well planned and effortless. But this isn't some kind of sterile Kenny G thing. No, this is a thang, it demands your attention and gets you moving. There's plenty of great sax on this song, but the next one kicks it up, with the sax alternating between punchy interjections and conversational riffing.

The next song shows off just how tight these guys can play. There are a lot of unison/harmony lines between the guitar and the tenor sax. Karl is playing it with some kind of pickup that's adding another harmony part, too.

Moving on from there, it's a roller coaster ride. We go from James Brown style funk with some great singing to a trippy, psychedelic groove with repetitive guitar and keys part and flute running into echo and feedback. There's plenty of the driving funk jazz that Denson is well known for and a lot of retro feeling, classic blues jazz, too. Throughout this, Karl was constantly active. If he wasn't playing the sax or the flute, he'd have a shaker or tambourine going. It's like he's ADHD but it's all directed to flowing with the groove.

My favorite parts were that psychedelic groove I mentioned earlier (I have no idea what it's called), a beautiful cover of Gil Scott-Heron's Lady Day and John Coltrane, and a moody, Miles Davis tinged jam where the guitar threw in some references to the Stones' Paint It Black. The whole show was great, though. By the end, I was totally drained but happy.

Let's call the waiter: dirty martinis are in order for this kind of low down groove. It's a late night and the sweat is dripping.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

CD Review - Billy Bragg, Mr. Love and Justice

Billy Bragg is an iconic presence for left wing folk music. He's a socialist folk singer with punk rock roots. These days, his stripped down arrangements on some songs are the nod to punk. Musically, he tends to have more pop and classic R&B sensibilities with folk instrumentation. In some ways, he's written around four songs or so: political and class-based screeds, broken relationship songs, almost broken relationship songs, and deeply sentimental songs. This is not to say I don't like him -- indeed, I like him a lot. His pop tunes are catchy; his lyrics are generally fairly clever, with more complex phrasing. I'm a little more left leaning, so most of his politics work for me to some extent, although he can be a little heavy handed. He's really a very interesting guy, though, and I recommend you give him a listen regardless of your politics. My favorite album of his is Worker's Playtime, but Mr. Love and Justice is relatively solid.

This album has a number of highs, lows, in-betweens, and "huh?"s. Let's start with the highs.

The album leads off with I Keep Faith, which falls under the "deeply sentimental" category. This is classic Bragg, with a sound right off of Worker's Playtime: guitar dominated, with a little bit of organ, well crafted pop, and nice dynamics with a big drop out on the last verse. A great start to this album.

M For Me is one of my favorite songs on the disc. The stripped down version I've linked to doesn't quite do it justice because it's missing the skiffle band sound of brushes on snare and other instrumentation. Still, the lyrics are beautifully crafted and clever:
Take the M for "me"
And the Y for "you"
Out of "Family"
And it all falls through.
The title track goes back to the opening, with a classic Bragg sound and a killer descending bass line. Its another failed relationship song that could have come off any of his albums. This is really what he does best.

On the political side, the best song is O Freedom, as in "O Freedom, what liberties are taken in thy name", which comes from the chorus. This walks through a rendition scenario, conveying the unfairness and scariness of it all and it brings up the point that these kind of policies only give our enemies a sense of moral outrage and strength. This works because it's not too heavy handed or overly sentimental. It's a good song to make you think without browbeating you into anything.

The R&B/gospel song, Sing Their Souls Back Home, is another well done political piece with some sweet slide guitar work. It really sounds familiar, though.

On the bad side (and it's not really very bad), The Johnny Carcinogenic Show fails for me because it's a little overwrought and too self conscious for its own good. It's an anti-smoking rant, demonizing the cigarette companies, which are too easy a target. Don't get me wrong, the tune is catchy but little touches like the background vocal chant of "poverty is toxic" weaken it.

Similarly, Something Happened is another weak song. It has a late 60's rock sound. The music rocks and there are good dynamics but the lyrics are odd and more than a little awkward in this short song about the difference between love and lust. This has an intentional political feel that, for some reason, reminds me of Soviet architecture. Maybe it's the lack of subtlety.

I won't write much about the middling songs: The Beach is Free, You Make Me Brave, etc. They're all decent songs, but not stand out for me.

Finally, there's one really big oddity. I Almost Killed You sounds like Morrissey at a Celtic jam. The instrumentation is odd, with hand claps high in the mix and the lyrics are a touch too ironic for Morrissey, but there you go. Needless to say, this falls into the "relationship problems" bucket. I don't dislike it but I do get a touch of cognitive dissonance when I hear it.

All taken together, this is a very listenable Billy Bragg album. Even after a number of listens, it's still in rotation on my iPod. Sip on an English mild at the pub while people complain about Wall Street (to give you a little bit of class consciousness) to get in the mood.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

CD Review - Blitzen Trapper, Furr

This album has been severely hyped. Everybody's raving about Blitzen Trapper in general and this album in particular. That effectively sets up the review: either I'm supposed to buy the hype and jump on the bandwagon or I should cop a superior attitude and shred it as something lame being pushed out to the masses. Given that choice, I'll take the middle path. My bottom line is that I like this disc but I don't think that I like it for the same reasons as the other reviewers.

The biggest love/hate aspect for this for me is that it's incredibly derivative. They have a set of influences that stand out almost in tribute. The Kinks are the most obvious, but there are plenty of Wilco, the Band, and Bowie kind of moments. Even the occasional bits of Oasis, T. Rex, and XTC. I'm not just talking about voices or snatches of familiar tunes; it really is a matter of harmonies, arrangements, writing style, and production values. This all works because this odd set of artists is kind of interesting to mix together. Despite the derivation, they've created something artistic and original. Now, with so many disparate influences, the album jumps around a lot stylistically. They're billed as an experimental folk-rock band but this album is roughly split between pop, folk, and some rock.

Furr has a seriously retro sound that goes way beyond the influences but it still has a foot in the modern age. They've intentionally made the whole album a little bit compressed and lo-fi, giving it some of that 70's kind of overall sound. Not so far off from what Beck has done in the past, for example. On most of the tracks, they've built up relatively dense, thick mixes without a lot of separation between the various parts, which you'll either love or hate. The downside is that it can be hard to pick out individual instruments but it also makes it stand up to repeated listenings a little better as you pick up on different details with each listen. They also mix up a lot of odd instrumentation for pop music, with banjos and melodica. On the whole, their arrangements are fairly solid.

The two songs that get the most raves are the title track, Furr, and Black River Killer. I'll split the difference here, too. I hate Furr. I don't mind the folky main section of the song that reminds me of the Band or the lyrical theme of drifting into animal nature and back. The problem is the production decision to throw in the sound effects and Wilco-like noise on the bridge. This makes no sense to me and it detracts from the feel of the song. In contrast, the noise stuff in Echo/Always On/EZ Con totally work for me because it fits the feel of what they're doing.

Black River Killer, which also gets props, is one of my favorite tracks. It's a heavy dark folk blues, with moody, pointless, amoral lyrics that clearly paint the title character. This time, the main influences are Tom Petty playing with the Band, but the reedy synth they add is a perfect touch. Creepy feel -- perfect. My other favorite track, War on Machines, digs into the Wilco style and sound, with a hint of 70's rock. I love the retro guitar sound. Jeff Tweedy wishes he wrote this song.

More notes about some of the influences, Sleepytime in the Western World, Fire and Fast Bullets, and the Echo section of Echo/Always On/EZ Con have that Ray Davies/Kinks feel. God and Suicide sounds a lot like Michael Penn (Freetime) with a hint of XTC or Matthew Sweet. Not Your Lover ressurects some Harvest-era Neil Young. Love U, a grindy trainwreck, has a Black Crowes vocal sound. They're not trying to deliberately copy those artists, it's just the nature of what they've absorbed. In any case, you should give this disc a listen and make up your own mind.

A good American brown ale, like Brooklyn Brown, would go perfectly with this disk. Then turn the lights down and shift to Sheaf Stout during Black River Killer.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More history: out of suffering, into joy

From nowhere to cool runnings

So, I already wrote about the Nowhere Band. As I mentioned, we painfully faded away and finally broke up. Now my friend, Bob Rogers (the drummer in the Nowhere Band), decided that I really needed to get into another band and he set his mind to finding one for me. Why? I'm not sure. Maybe it's because misery loves company but, more likely, it was to keep me from drifting back into just playing in my bedroom. Every once in a while, he'd call to tell me about a band I should check out because they needed a guitarist.

I even went to an audition, which was a nightmare. They wanted a lead player (great!) but they were more interested in flailing around than making music. The last song, I just turned it up to 11 and played as obnoxiously as possible -- There's a singer? Can't hear him, don't care. It turns out that this was my best song of the night from their point of view, even though I finished about 45 seconds after the rest of the band. They were happy enough but I wasn't interested. Even my earlier forays into punk were more interactive and (at some level) musical. I asked Bob to give it a break.

Still, he called me again within a month and told me about this great reggae band that desperately needed me. Right. Then he told me he had already set up the audition and committed that I'd be there. I had listened to reggae and even knew the difference between reggae and ska but I hadn't really played it before. I had a couple of days before the audition, so I decided to listen to all the reggae I could. I wanted to better understand how the pieces fit together, especially how the guitar contributed. It turns out that it's not all chank-chank;-)

I showed up for the audition and met the band. I talked with them while I set up my rig. It was an interesting mix: a couple of long haired hippie looking guys on bass and guitar/keyboards, another guy on percussion, a female drummer. and a female singer. Dave, the other guitarist, also sang. All of them were pretty cool. First song. "What key are we in and what do you want?" I dive in and it all came together fairly well. Each song, I started with the same question and adapted. By the end of the night, I didn't care so much whether I was in or not, I just knew I had helped make some good music. They went out for a beer afterwards and asked me to come along. As we were heading out of the bar, I said something about looking forward to hearing from them once they made up their minds. "Oh, you're in already. We have another practice next Tuesday and we're playing a gig the Friday after that."

On Tuesday, I took feverish notes for each song: was I playing fills or rhythm? What kind of beat? what key? guitar sound, etc. I got to that first gig and I wasn't sure how it was going to go. We started out playing Guess Who's Coming to Dinner by Black Uhuru. My job: a simple chank beat with a typical flange guitar sound. About two measures in, I notice that Dave is playing my part. Oh, crap. So, I automatically shifted into fill mode -- finding the holes and throwing in some parts without dominating the mix or the space. Dave looked over at me and smiled. I had just passed my first (and really, only) test.

The key question was which is more important? Getting the part right or how the whole band sounded? Of course, it was the latter. I had played in plenty of jams where the idea is for everyone to follow the muse of the group. But this was the first time I had played specific songs where, if someone else screwed their part, your job is to help make that sound good. That first test was a trivial one but it's what we did every time. Dedication to the groove, the whole is more than the parts. We would often have people sit in with our band, which could be unpredictable. But the grounding philosophy held us true. Also, it wasn't an intellectual thing, it was all about feeling the music and instictively finding the right part.

Over the years I played with Cool Runnings, we had plenty of conflicts and occasional infighting but every time we took the stage, the music came first. I've had some of the hottest moments playing for an audience with that band and we formed a deep bond that I still feel. After all of this, I have to thank Bob because it was his effort that pulled me out of a suffering, failed band and showed me the joy I could have, too. I've made it back to Colorado Springs and jammed with Tom, Dave, Gary, Lisa, and Keith (another singer who joined us). Unfortunately, there have been other drummers, since Melanie left after I moved away, but it's still always been about the music.

The barely spoken motto "Dedication to the groove" is one I took to heart for myself and I carry it into every band, every jam I play. It's also what I look for the most when I catch a band. I look for that flicker of eye contact as the bass player shifts his part to cover and the drummer adjusts...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

CD Review - The Squirrels, The Not-So-Bright Side of the Moon

Thank you, Cheesus. No, really. After I posted my entry about covers, Cheesus recommended this to me. He had already written his review at the Electric Lounge of Aural Ecstacy, where he compared three different covers of Dark Side. Anyway, I gave this a listen and now you can get my take, too.

The Squirrels are a band out of Seattle that make what I'd call "blender rock". They pull together a number of disparate pieces and mix and match them until it's art. Their myspace page has a wonderful stream of consciousness description of the band with great lines like, "It is what it is, and BOY what an 'IS' it is am be ARE". I'm going to have to get some more of their music. Should I Stay or Let it Snow? Brilliant.

So, let's move on to the actual review. The cover art alone should give you an idea of the band's sensibility. This is a warped, humorous take on a classic that's more of a tribute than just a cover version. And it begins with a hiccup. Instead of the heartbeat that begins the original version of Speak to Me, this version has various odd sounds to set up a similar but different loop. Between the hiccups, the mooing, and the Tickle-Me-Elmo impression that provides most of the conversational snippets from the original, you know that you're going to be taking quite the strange little jaunt.

The music flits along from style to style, with a nice upbeat jazzy groove for Breath, R&B funk for Us and Them, and bluegrass, disco, Zappa-like jams for Brain Damage. This is all well crafted music, too, although some sections are a little grating. The vocals in many parts remind me of Stan Ridgeway from Wall of Voodoo (although my guess is that it's Tortelvis from Dread Zepplin).

There's all kinds of inspired madness, from looking behind the curtain for the synthesizer reboot on On the Run and the missing singer reference for The Great Gig in the Sky ("Okay, let's get the girl in there" "The girl didn't show up" "Ahh, sh*t. Well...okay, hey Joey, give it a shot") to the great sound effects. They blend it up good, too. Money uses music from the old Motown hit, Money (That's What I Want), with the original Pink Floyd lyrics. The Great Gig in the Sky includes a chunk of Zappa's The Torture Never Stops.

Bottom line, if you're a Pink Floyd purist who hates the idea of messing with greatness, then this album is a direct poke in your eye. You need to listen with a full sense of humor and appreciation of the odd to get the most out of this.

Pair this with some Nyquil and absinthe and strap yourself down. Headphones are encouraged.

Thanks again for the recommendation, Cheesus.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

CD Review - Paul and Storm, Opening Band, News to Us, Gumbo Pants

I've already written about Paul and Storm opening for Jonathan Coulton last month, so I'll keep the rehash part of this short: they were part of a humorous a capella group called Davinci's Notebook and they currently do music and comedy. They were hysterical live, so see them if you get the chance. This review is for the three CDs I got at the show.

But before I get underway with that, I need to talk about comedy albums. As I was thinking about this, I thought I'd look through my discs and see what I had that was "comedy". It turns out that I have quite a few sort of humorous music artists, such as the Bobs, Tenacious D, The Austin Lounge Lizards, Flight of the Conchords, Three Dead Troll in a Baggie, and Shel Silverstein. Plus all kinds of funny songs. But actual comedy albums or groups? It's a very short list. Firesign Theatre. And I used to have some Richard Pryor on vinyl, back in the day. The problem is that most straight comedy doesn't bear up well to repeated listening. The music works for me because it's got a little more going on. Firesign Theatre works because it's very layered with stuff. And it's real funny. Now I can still watch Monty Python and laugh even though I know every word...so it can be worth having. But it ain't easy.

If I were a fancy-pants writer, I'd call that last paragraph foreshadowing. The short summary for this review is that there are some funny moments here, but my favorite bits are the more "song-like" songs. Let's step through these discs and you'll see, okay?

First up, Opening Band (2005). This disc has 4 types of material. They have a number of funny songs, a repeating comedy bit, rejected ad jingles, and commentary. The funny songs get a mixed grade: Opening Band is quite funny and holds up well to repeated listenings, but Six Guys, Ten Teeth or the Ballad of Eddie Praeger are fairly weak. Buffett Night and Find the Words are somewhere in between. The repeating comedy bit is a series of movie themes as written by Randy Newman, such as Seabiscuit, Passion of the Christ, and Citizen Kane. It's amusing but it gets a little old. The jingles are funny on the first listen, especially for Cheetos and Kleenex. Now that I've heard them, I don't really need to again, though. The commentary is mildly interesting. Once. So, the score here: reasonably funny on first play, 3-4 decent songs on later sessions.

Next up, News to Us (2006). So, the boys perform a lot on the Bob and Tom show. This show supports some great comedy and music, like Todd Snider and Kinky Friedman. This disc is a collection of material that Paul and Storm created for the show, all packaged up. This makes the first big mistake of recorded comedy: do a bit with a couple of guys there to laugh at it so we'll know how funny it is. The premise for a lot of these is that they were going to do songs inspired by the news. In practice, there are a lot of in-jokes, including their obsession with Kristi from the show. Hmm...if you can't say something nice...well, the song, Your Love is (Love Song with Metaphor) is actually pretty decent. And I did laugh a little at Hip-Shop, which is a barber shop medley of popular hip-hop and pop songs. Score: 3 (of 10) + cheese.

Okay, last up, Gumbo Pants (2008) takes us back to the earlier format: some funny songs, a little schtick, and more rejected jingles. The high points for songs: Your Town, which is similar to Opening Band, and A Better Version of You are both pretty funny (and I still listen to them). The Captain's Wife's Lament is really funny live and decent for a listen or two on the disc. The schtick is a little more interesting: some comedy impressions (If James Taylor Were on Fire) and one line songs (Very Two Best Friends) are pretty good and don't get beat to death like the Randy Newman thing. The jingles are similar to Opening Band's examples: funny once, but not much more with Olive Garden probably being my favorite. Final score: Opening Band +2.

So, this review is probably more about my tolerance for hitting the same comedy bits repeatedly than about Paul and Storm's collective sense of humor. Net result? I'd say see them live if you ever get the chance and go to their downloads page and listen to the stuff and pick the songs you really want to buy.

For a pairing here, I'll have to go for the cheap laugh and suggest Long Island Ice Tea with a side of nitrous oxide.