Asylum Street Spankers
My Favorite Record
Spanks-a-Lot / Bloodshot
I’m a sucker for stuff like this. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to appropriately describe bands like the Asylum Street Spankers without making them sound like some sort of novelty act — which they rarely are. But forging on, the Asylum Street Spankers are an extremely talented group of musicians (over a dozen people contributed to this) who perform on a variety of mostly acoustic instruments, backing the twin vocal powerhouse of Christina Marrs and Wammo. The opening “Monkey Rag” sounds old-timey in a Dixieland sort of way (must be the banjo), and while my first instinct was “I should play this for my kids,” a listen to the lyrics revealed some concepts that may be difficult to explain to Kindergarteners. In contrast, the following “Antifreeze” is what can be legally termed a bouncy ditty, with acoustic guitars and bass providing accompaniment to somewhat They Might Be Giants-like abstracted and distracted lyrics. However, the band one-ups TMBG in the band name-checking department, with Jesus Lizard, Sonic Youth, and Daniel Johnston all getting a mention. Then, we have “Breathin’,” which could very well be a sequel to Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” with its strolling acoustic bass and smoldering vocals.
“Whatever” is one of the funniest songs I’ve heard in some time: “I’ll be a Marxist, a Communist, a pacifist, an anarchist, Democrat, red white, green or blue, whatever I can do, to get in bed with you.” Unfortunately, this transcription of the lyrics doesn’t do justice to Wammo’s impeccable comedic timing. “Mountain Town” is a send-up of Bob Dylan, down to the raspy voice and chord changes. “Wingless Angels” is a country weeper, woozily putting its fists up knowing it’s a fight it can’t win. “Smile” showcases Marrs’ clear, old-fashioned voice to a great degree.
Which brings us to my favorite song on My Favorite Record: “Wammo’s Blues.” It starts out innocently enough, as a shuffling blues number anchored by a swaggering stand-up bass and clever percussion. However, shortly after the band manages to insert the riff from “Iron Man,” Wammo takes off into a stratospheric rant, halfway between James Brown and Mojo Nixon, that must be heard to be believed — “I’ll make you smoke the majesty of my impending mullet” is just a small sample.
“The Minor Waltz” delivers on its title, being both in a minor key and a waltz, but it also has a fantastic musical saw part, courtesy of the multi-talented Marrs, and an equally fantastic gypsy guitar part from the coincidentally-named Django Porter.
There’s a few songs I haven’t mentioned here, but hopefully what I’ve described has piqued your interest. It’s rare to hear bands that can write fantastic songs, coordinate an extreme variety of instruments, and do it all with humor and aplomb. My Favorite Record is an old-fashioned good time from start to finish.