ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS
The Asylum Street Spankers, a septet from Austin, usually perform without amplification; their voices, along with an odd assortment of ukulele, washboard, clarinet, fiddle, drums, guitar and upright bass, are enough to fill a room with the Dixieland jazz, jug-band music and hillbilly swing of the 1920s and '30s. After a while, though, you realize that these funny, jaunty tunes about sex, drugs and showbiz aren't always from the years before Pearl Harbor; they just sound that way.
For example, the second song on the group's new album, "Mercurial," begins with finger snaps, jazz guitar and a walking bass line and leads into a harmonica break. But when the one-named singer Wammo belts out this bridge, "My name is MCA and I got a license to kill; I think you know what time it is; it's time to get ill," you realize where you've heard the song before -- it's the Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere" redone as a swaggering swing tune. Moreover, it's just as funny and just as catchy as the album's other songs by Cab Calloway, the Boswell Sisters and Bessie Smith.
"Mercurial" contains similar transformations of Ivory Joe Hunter's 1956 R&B hit, "Since I Met You Baby"; the 1979 hit "Dance This Mess Around," by the B-52's; and Black Flag's 1981 punk classic, "TV Party." It all works, because the silky seduction of Christina Marrs's lead vocals offers a nice contrast to Wammo's boisterous shouts and because the band behind them plays the old rhythms with such verve.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Thursday at Iota. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Asylum Street Spankers, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8103. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)