CD review: ‘God's Favorite Band' by Asylum Street Spankers

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Asylum Street Spankers


Heartfelt and direct, gospel music usually doesn't fare too well in the hands of musical pranksters like Austin's Asylum Street Spankers. But this live recording, its tongue-in-cheek title notwithstanding, is pitch perfect, an unvarnished -- and, at times, refreshingly irreverent -- set of joyful noise rooted in the sanctified blues and street-corner gospel of the Great Depression.

The program opens with a haunting version of the Blind Willie Johnson bottleneck guitar classic "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground," followed by the pew-rattling call-and-response of "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego" and a raggy take on the traditional hymn "Each Day." Galvanizing the last of these is some righteous, Rosetta Tharpe-style shouting from singer and producer Christina Marrs, who also turns in a gorgeous lead vocal on a cantering remake of the Soul Stirrers' "Last Mile of the Way." Other canonical numbers include "Down by the Riverside," done as a Dixieland stomp.

More out-of-left field is the group's hootenanny-style version of the Violent Femmes' "Jesus Walking on the Water" and their slow-drag savaging of "It Ain't Necessarily So." Even better are the woozy "Volkswagen Thing" (the Creator's vehicle of choice; Satan drives a Mercedes) and the finger-snapping "Right and Wrong," a pair of theologically spot-on originals from singer-washboard player Wammo. Inspirational line from the latter: "Some leaders claim to be spiritual and shatter the commandments every day."

Asylum Street Spankers perform at Jammin' Java on Thursday.

-- Bill Friskics-Warren

Recommended tracks

"Down by the Riverside," "Right and Wrong," "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego"

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