Rhythm & Views
AUGUST 17, 1998:
Squirrel Nut Zippers
FOR PROOF THE Squirrel Nut Zippers are--if not original--at least removed from the zoot-suited swingers they get lumped in with, here's Perennial Favorites. The band's third album comes complete with a weepy old-time country ballad, a sleepy tango, a New Orleans romp, a creepy klezmer/vaudeville show tune, a mechanically manic cartoon soundtrack, and (for good measure) another calypso like last year's popular "Hell."
Recorded at home and featuring a mix of old and new material, Perennial Favorites is surprisingly slight and hodgepodge for a follow-up to million-selling Hot. But over the long haul, Perennial Favorites might end up the group's most important record: a small, dark masterpiece in the shadow of its better-selling predecessor. That's because the record finds the Zippers spreading their wings, pulling their hair, and laughing at themselves. More, Perennial Favorites captures the band's music exactly as it should be: like the creak of a dusty old chest, opening to reveal a pirate map of forgotten American treasure. Fresh out of the box, and already a lost classic.
Rumba Baby Rumba!
JUST AS THE so-called neo-swing bands aren't aiming to attract jazz purists, Bio Ritmo probably isn't planning to sow roots in Spanish Harlem. By indulging in a little Ricky Ricardo schtick, Bio Ritmo--a group more likely to have played with Dave Matthews and Gwar than any Afro-Cuban all-star--aims to cross over as only a salsa band from Richmond, Virginia, can. To his credit, the band's Cuban-born songwriter understands his audience well enough to offer a set of catchy melodies, sung mostly in English, that don't aim to inspire anything more than some dance-floor hip-swaying, and smiles all around. When the band plays it straight, it relies on clichéd riffs that even competent playing can't pull off. But songs like the salsoul phone-dialer "Call Me Up (644-7215)," and the goofball Caribbean "Ugly"--inherently inauthentic pop-hybrids--succeed most convincingly. Like their friends and tourmates Squirrel Nut Zippers, Bio Ritmo transcend rote revivalism by allowing their natural eccentricities--and modern inclinations--to strut.
Return Of The Living Dead
FUNNY HOW THINGS work out. After fence-mending and regrouping, the band's powers seem to have been magnified, resulting in a reunion album that's reflective (as befits maturity and hindsight), but in no way restrained. The epochal desert-rock sound that is their forte may be maligned by certain reactionary locals who were weaned on grunge, but it's telling that when a Rubies' tune comes over the airwaves it's as cool as hearing an old favorite by the Who, the Stones or Neil Young. Here, signature tunes include a raucous, chunky-guitar garage number, "Turn Off Your Stereo," and an astonishing dark ballad, "Undone Again," which burns with enough sadness and regret to permanently light the candles of a barrio memorial. A handful of tracks originally recorded around '92 during sessions for the Sand Rubies album are included, as are a pair of unexpected covers: a hectic, punkish reading of "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory," and Del Shannon's "Stranger In Town," which bears an indelible Tom Petty stamp (small wonder--it was recorded by the Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell). But throughout, what comes through the loudest is that rarest of chemistry that makes bands great. Not necessarily successful or famous; that's up to fate (and marketing). But great just the same.
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