Tom Maxwell, former singer/songwriter/assorted instrumentalist from the now-defunct Squirrel Nut Zippers, is truly the maestro of musical genres that time haphazardly buried. Moving along from his former band’s hand in the revival of swing through their masterful Charlestown sound, Maxwell has gone solo to orchestrate a spectacularly eclectic album full of blues, bluegrass, and old time jazz. When he intends it to, his sound could sometimes be mistaken for the early days of Louis Armstrong or the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. But be it a stripped-down gospel number or a tune based around a pipe organ, each number is finely crafted around Maxwell’s unmistakable confident and versatile voice.
Maxwell doesn’t completely abandon the style that put him on the map, though, and Samsara contains a number of tracks that could easily have come out of the Squirrel Nut Zippers – especially when former bandmate Ken Mosher shows up on a few of them. Still, the crowning point of this album is Maxwell’s ability to move through genres and still keep a consistent feel, as if a slightly sinister quirky jazzy/lounge-esque instrumental entitled “Caveat Emptor” is expressly written to be followed by the Eastern, Indian-sounding traditional “Some Born Singing.” Like an expert mix tape, Samsara is a courtly world tour of what music has to offer, and with such a proficient host as Tom Maxwell, it’s nothing to pass up.
Samsara Ltd., P.O. Box 595, Pittsboro, NC 27312; http://www.tommaxwell.com