I like to give everything a fair shot. I’ve heard some pretty terrible things in my day because of this policy, but I have also found some treasures in things that other reviewers may have instantly passed for one reason or another.
The Bramble Jam‘s Move Your Boots is a kid’s album. Don’t be frightened: the tunes play out like a smoother version of They Might Be Giants’ work (a band that has also composed some kids’ music). The songs are primarily acoustic folk and pop tunes, as that seems to be the only genre that people think kids like (although Fang Island and the Sugar Free Allstars are striving to change this). The assured male and female vocals set this apart from other kids’ albums. There is the obligatory wink at the audience every now and then, but the band members mostly play the songs straight, not laughing at their own jokes.
This sounds like not a big deal, but anyone who has suffered through a self-congratulating children’s album knows how far an ounce of sincerity goes in this genre. “Pancakes” is the runaway favorite here, as the lyrics are genuinely funny (“Don’t you know that your mommy is the better milk and cornflake maker? Don’t you know that your mommy is the better low-fat yogurt scooper?”), the melody is dry and infectious, and the band locks on a loose, Jack Johnson-esque groove. It’s a lot of fun.
“Hey Crazy Kid” features a propulsive groove and a more dry melodies that would make it perfect to be a cover by any indie band. The lyrics wouldn’t even have to be altered. It’s that good. “Mommy’s Lost Her Marbles” hangs on a great organ riff. “Piggies (acoustic)” does sentimental in a way that actually makes me want to sigh instead of gag. I won’t ruin why it does.
Yes, there are a couple of stinkers, like the regrettable opener “Going to a Party” and the oddball surf-punk of “Chicken Soccer.” Things do get a bit too saccharine on “I Am Not Gone,” as well. But they are easily passed over for the other treasures within.
Move Your Boots by the Bramble Jam is unabashedly a kids’ album. But it has the musical quality to be enjoyed by their parents (and, apparently, at least one single-as-can-be music critic). If you’re adventurous, have kids, or really want to try something outside of your normal listening, hit this up.
I am twenty-one years old, but the Gettin’ Funky with the Sugar Free Allstars DVD definitely made me feel twenty-one years young. And while it is meant for kids, I must admit that I highly enjoyed this live performance, recorded by the Oklahoman Sugar Free Allstars at the City Arts Center in Oklahoma City.
The Allstars consist of Chris “Boom!” Wiser on organ and vocals, and Rob “Dr. Rock” Martin on the drums. On the Hammond B-3, Chris plays bumping bass lines in addition to his soul and gospel influenced melodies. Dr. Rock also provides backup vocals, which are especially funny and effective in “Poppy and Meemaw,” a song about grandparents and their names. (Mine are Grammy and Pop-pop.) With Chris’ goofy vocals and funny questions, and Dr. Rock’s stoic one-word answers, the duo have great stage presence. But the kids probably just call this “fun,” and they’re right.
The DVD starts with “Banana Pudding,” which got me giggling (and hungry) right away. In this song and throughout the rest, Chris has the kids do something participatory. For example, in “Bathtub Boy,” there’s a lather up/scrub it down/rinse it off acting sequence that was, I mean seemed, fun. Between each of the seven songs, there’s a funny fast-forwarded interlude of Chris and Dr. Rock messing around in the arts center, and/or an interview with a group of kids. The kids are unintentionally hilarious, as kids often are. I re-watched a part where a little girl under two utters a nasally and very straight-faced “meow” in a ball pit.
Gettin’ Funky with the Sugar Free Allstars is great not only because kids would adore it, but also because the music Chris and Dr. Rock play is fun and danceable without being watered-down or annoying for adults to listen to. The lyrics are certainly ridiculous, as they should be, but these songs are still solid and funky.
The soundtrack is available as a free download with purchase of the DVD. The Sugar Free Allstars have also released albums for adults, all of which are available on their website.
In a world full of guitar/guitar/bass/drums, it’s comforting to see bands that completely wreck the standard setup. The Sugar Free Allstars are composed of Chris Wiser (Hammond B3 organ, saxophone, vocals) and Rob “Dr. Rock” Martin (Drums/back-up vocals). That’s it. There’s no guitar or bass- just two men armed with what instruments they’ve got, melodies to spare, and a zany sense of humor. Atypical pop with a sly grin is what the Sugar Free Allstars have to offer, and we caught up with the very busy Chris Wiser to hear about what’s been going on in the SugarFree camp.
Independent Clauses: You’ve been playing a lot of shows outside of Oklahoma lately. How has the response in other cities been to your music?
Chris Wiser: It’s been going very well. People outside of Oklahoma aren’t used to seeing some dummy hauling a full size Hammond organ around and they seem to be impressed. A lot of folks respond well to the fact that we have no guitar, just because it’s something different that they haven’t seen that often, if ever.
IC: What’s your favorite town outside of Oklahoma to play?
CW: Probably Manhattan, KS, but Fargo (yes THE Fargo), North Dakota is rising up the charts pretty fast.
IC: Who have you been playing with lately, and how has that been
CW: We’ve been doing shows with Madahoochi from St Louis, 56 Hope Road from Chicago, Brother Bagman from Kansas City, and Mama’s Cookin’ from Gunnison, Co. It’s been going very well. We’re good friends with all of these bands, which has helped our crowds in other towns.
IC: If you could tour with anyone playing right now, who would it be?
CW: Ben Folds, Little Feat, Galactic, Dr John.
IC: Any show stick out as particularly interesting and notable lately?
CW: We got to do the official after show party after the Dr John show at Feat Fest in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. We were personally invited by Little Feat and our friend Fred Tackett, who plays guitar for them, played several tunes with us.
IC: How long and how far do you plan to tour?
CW: Not really sure. We realize we can’t do this forever, but we’ll keep going until it’s not practical anymore. We just want to try to build a fan base in as many places as we can before we’re done.
IC: You’ve also been recording a new album- how has that gone?
CW: It’s been great. The tracks have been done for a while, but we’ve delayed the release to get Fred Tackett, who I mentioned before plays for Little Feat, to put some guitar on one of the tracks.
IC: How is the songwriting different than on your last album Dos Machos? CW: It’s really not. Some of these songs have been around since before Dos Machos. We just try to put together songs that go well together.
IC: What are some bands/things/experiences that influenced you on this new album?
CW: One song “Cadillac Lady” was influenced by something Dr Rock (drums) said, “Jesus Christ Super Center ” was influenced by Adam and the Ants. Most everything was influenced by things I heard or saw.
IC: Explain your favorite song on the new album and the story (or
lack thereof) behind it.
CW: I think right now the 2 that are my favorite are “Jesus Christ Super Center” and “Parachute Pants” because we got creative with the studio arrangements.
IC: Who recorded/engineered/mixed the album? Any funny recording stories?
CW: Trent Bell at Bell Labs. We’ve been recording with him for 30 years now.
IC: What are you listening to right now?
CW: I’m pretty ADD when it comes to listening to music. I buy a lot of cheap vinyl so whatever the last thing I bought ends up being what I listen to for about a day or so. Let’s see, the last records I bought were Starlight Mints’ Built on Squares (blue vinyl, very cool), Badfinger No Dice, Mungo Jerry and Gordon Lightfoot. I recently bought the newest Ben Kweller CD and really like it a lot.
IC: What CD release are you looking forward to (besides your own, of
CW: I’m looking forward to Ben Folds’ next studio album of new material. I liked his last one alright (Songs for Silverman) but I prefer his more sarcastic material. I’m hoping he returns to that style of writing.
Interview conducted by Stephen Carradini via e-mail in November.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.