Sunday, September 22, 2013

Tin Men "Avocado Woo Woo" (4*)

The publicity material describes the Tin Men as America's premier sousaphone, washboard and guitar trio, which you might think is stretching things a tad given the possibility that there aren’t too many trios featuring that particular configuration.

I’m looking more towards the Tin Men as an example of the need to work a variety of gigs to keep the wolf from the door, with Alex McMurray having another source of p(l)aying gigs where he doesn’t have to work the spotlight on his own.

Here he’s got a counterfoil in the form of Washboard Chaz, who has his own set of alternative revenue sources. The Palmetto Bug Stompers work their way through traditional New Orleans Jazz,  Washboard Rodeo blend New Orleans and Western swing influences and the Washboard Chaz Blues Trio probably deliver just what the moniker suggests.

Third Tin Man Matt Perrine has the handy ability to contribute some stringed bass, but when you’re rated a virtuoso sousaphone player by Downbeat, co-founder of the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, one of the city's premier brass bands, the recipient of Offbeat magazine's award for best tuba player for 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 you might be tempted to stick to your stronger suit.

Perrine also picked up credits as musical director and arranger for the musical Nine Lives, composed by Colman deKay and former Cowboy Mouth guitarist, Paul Sanchez, a post-Katrina postcard from New Orleans with the score performed by an all star cast including Irma Thomas, Harry Shearer, Michelle Shocked, Alex McMurray and Allen Toussaint. He’s also, predictably, turned up on Treme, and keeps the wolf from the door by playing gigs with, among others, the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, Paul Sanchez and the Rolling Road Show and Jon Cleary's philthy phew.

On that basis you can expect to see the name popping up in these parts fairly regularly from here on.

There’s a fair percentage of original McMurray material in the Tin Men repertoire, and you’d expect various numbers that appear in other settings would make their way into the trio’s live set, but there’s a bit of cover material in evidence on Avocado Woo Woo, including an intriguing take on Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours, and Chuck Berry’s Maybellene.

Having heard McMurray in other settings a burst of gospel to kick things off mightn’t be quite what you’re expecting, but Jesus Always Gets His Man is a serve of street gospel that charges along without taking any prisoners and doesn’t seem to have any tongues in cheek. That’s seemingly at odds with the sentiments expressed in the slinky Swerve, a co-write with Washboard Chaz that’s typically McMurray.

Perrine overdubs some trombone over the regular instrumentation on Turn My Lights Back On, delivering a dash of Dixieland to the mix. There’s no real indication who Tano-San is, but he seems like a cool dude on What Tano-San Say, three minutes of raffish je ne sais quoi, and the title track may or may not be paying tribute to a snacky delicacy. McMurray’s I Got A Guy seems to announce a connection to figures in the local underworld who can get things done for you (and if he can’t, he’s got a guy who can).  

Why Don't You Haul Off And Love Me? is about what you think it’s about, but dates back to 1949 when earlier versions of the track features at the top of the Country and Race Records (precursor to Rhythm & Blues) charts. The Mississippi Sheiks operated around the time of the Great Depression and provide the source for Lonely One In This Town.

There’s a touch of Hugh Masakela (think Grazing in the Grass) about Perrine’s Living And Loving On The West Bank  that segues nicely into Maybelline.

Things are back in Mississippi Sheiks territory for I've Got Blood In My Eyes For You  and New Orleans producer and engineer Keith Keller gets the writing credit for Lies, a prime slice of power pop that contrasts nicely with what preceded it, while The Valparaiso Men's Chorus Boy's Auxiliary roar along on the chorus of McMurray’s If You Can't Make It Here.

All in all, having caught most of McMurray’s back catalogue (apart from the earlier Tim Men releases (Super Great Music For Modern Lovers and Freaks For Industry haven’t made their way into iTunes hereabouts, and I’m *that close* to ordering hard copies) there isn’t a great deal that’s new here, but the guy’s a class act, Washboard Chaz makes an interesting counterfoil, and I’m increasingly supportive of the notion that you don’t need an actual bass player if you’ve got a sousaphone handy.

Of course, it also helps if you’ve got Matt Perrine to play the thing.

Good time jug band influenced music with wit, charm and washboard. What’s not to like about that?

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