Asylum Street Spankers
Mercury — the planet, the myth and more — seems to be a recurring theme for me lately. You know, one of those things that just keeps popping up, in ways you hadn’t expected it to. Anyway, what Mercurial means in this context is that the Asylum Street Spankers, deadliest bluegrass ninjas this side of the lithosphere, “fresh off the road” as the liner notes put it, holed up in the Mercury Hall with Austin producer Brian Beattie (Glass Eye, K. McCarthy) and seared this record onto already sizzling hot analog equipment.
On Mercurial, the band purrs like a warmed-up hotrod. Comprised of mostly other people’s material — some interesting choices, which we’ll get to shortly • the album showcases a band that’s enjoying that rare type of musical telepathy which you can often see on stage but rarely hear on record. The players — the Spankers are an eight-piece — are all masters at their instruments, and many are multi-instrumentalists, but more important, they all work well together as one giant, post-modern, deranged juke joint jukebox.
For example. Black Flag’s “TV Party” is given a jug-band treatment, peppered with TV themes, and finales with a mellifluous cacophony as each instrument plays its favorite show opening. The Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere” takes a ride, a sort of swinging rockabilly ride. The Jazz Butcher’s “D.R.I.N.K.”, one of my secret all-time favorites, is given a lovely and somewhat Dixieland treatment. The B-52’s “Dance This Mess Around” is Spankerized into a bewildering duality of sounding completely like and unlike the original. And before you dismiss the Spankers as pomo ironicists of pop culture, give a listen to old standards like “Digga Digga Doo” (with the Star Wars cantina theme interjected) or “Tight Like That” (with Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” interjected)… er, well, yes they are pomo ironicists of pop culture, but you shouldn’t dismiss them for that.
Perhaps the coup-de-grace here is “Hick Hop,” whose title pretty much sums it up — gangsta rap done bluegrass white trash style, a call-and-response chorus of “Hi-yo Silver / Whoa Trigger” and liberal acoustic sampling of Skynyrd.
The Asylum Street Spankers are a force of nature, something that adds up to more than the twanging, yodeling and thumping racket they produce. They’re a good time, encoded into digital bits for your playback enjoyment, and until technology can produce some sort of direct goodtime gland stimulator, this throwback chimaera is the best we’ve got.
Spanks-a-lot Records: www.asylumstreetspankers.com/