Album review: "Proper Cowboy"
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, August 3, 2012
A goulash of klezmer, Latin and Jamaican rhythms, “Thrash Mexican Budapest” is almost as incongruous as its title. Yet the high-kicking number, which opens the fourth album by Diego’s Umbrella, only begins to show the range of the San Francisco group.
“Proper Cowboy” encompasses reggae, flamenco, techno, mariachi, lounge-jazz ballads, Broadway show tunes, spaghetti-Western scores and (sweetly, if a little strangely) anthemic Brit-pop. The album’s title derives from its only cover tune, “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done,” a 1972 Sonny & Cher hit that has been largely forgotten -- except by this pack of eclectic jokers.
While its members’ instrumental skills are solid and versatile, Diego’s Umbrella differs from most “gypsy punk” outfits by emphasizing vocal melodies. The brief “Amsterdam Pt. 1” is a showcase for violinist Jason Kleinberg, and horns boost a few tracks (including “Amsterdam Pt. 2”). But the album’s most prominent guest is Fishbone’s Angelo Moore, who sings on “Bulletproof Shine,” which blends techno-funk with mariachi-rock. It’s followed by “Moneymaker,” which is one part 1930s jumpin’ jive to four parts contemporary rock. Subtract their worldly flavorings and such songs as “Downtown” and “Richardson” are pure pop. Although the beats and timbres sometimes sound exotic, Diego’s Umbrella aims its choruses straight for the mainstream.