THE ALBUM -- The Widespread Depression Orchestra, "Boogie In The Barnyard," Stash (ST 206).; THE SHOW -- At the Cellar Door, this Friday and Saturday at 8 and 10:30; THE FREE SHOW -- On 19th Street NW, between Dupont Circle and Q Street, Sunday from 2 to 6.
Nine guys born 20 years too late, the members of the Widespread Depression Orchestra have lost no time reviving the swing era, winning fans from across the generations. Their second album, "Boogie in the Barnyard," mixes original arrangements of classics, such as Rodgers & Hart's 1928 preswing hit "You Took Advantage of Me," with strictly camp routines like the title track.
WDO's hot licks are authentic, not simply rock or blues with old-fashioned touches, Johnny Holtzman's vibes and vocals and Michael Hashim's alto sax work recapture the essence of Ellington, the spirit of swing. No matter which recession you grew up in, big-band buffs and converts from the current pop charts alike will recognize fine musicians here. They'll carry you back to the bad old days, whether or not you've got memories of the original widespread depression.
The group, formed in '72, released a super first album last year titled, "Downtown Uproar." Giants of American music like Basie, Ellington, Cab Calloway and Earl Hines were all represented in a happy debut on the group's own label. Now with its new release, WDO continues the good-time depression mood, giving Ellington's breezy "Tulip or Turnip" a fresh, relaxed rendition: Tulip or turnip, rosebud or rhubarb, filet or plain beef stew Tell me, tell me, tell me, dreamface -- what am I to you?
Revivals of earlier tunes like the Duke's dreamy, slow "Azure" and an Earl Hines standard, "You Can Depend on Me," are among the classics dusted off for a salute. On the latter, Holtzman's vocal and Jordan Sandke's blazing trumpet are highlights straight out of the Forties. Throughout the LP, buzzy reeds and slick brasses are standouts, vying with Michael Le Donne tickling the ivories, John Ellis knocking out perfect swing-style rhythms on drums, Bill Conway's fluent bass and Holtzman's genuine melodies on vibes. Expert technicians who craft their music with an ear for history, all the band's members delight us with their solos; and in concert, their enjoyment of the style is obvious -- and contagious.
Romping through jazz standards, swing hits and swaying blues themes, WDO offers an exacting slice of nostalgia. Never mind the fact that they'll never see today's top 10 or even make most radio playlists. They just might move listeners to put on felt hats, wide lapels, shoulder pads and pearls and boogie round the potted palms. Their shows here this weekend can have only one drawback: Minus a dance floor, the audience will have to swing in their seats.