Strange Tales of the Amazing Platypus
STATEN ISLAND, NY--The long-running joke of the Wahoo Skiffle Crazies is that they are Staten Island's best and only jug band. This is definitely true, and made more obvious by the band's new album. Last week, with a show at Martini Red, the band released it's first LP in 5 years: 'Strange Tales of the Amazing Platypus.' On Saturday, the group will continue to push the recording into the city's atmosphere, with a show at Brooklyn's new and excellent venue The Rock Shop. (The show will also feature a noted but secret Brooklyn-based country-fried singer/hip-hop artist. Show up to find out). Anyone who has heard the multitudinous Skiffle Crazies play in recent years will recognize plenty of the material on 'Amazing Platypus.' After a long opening track of Time Bandits-like space-meets-industrial-revolution-seafaring-noise, the group launches into one of their standards, 'Beach Street Mess Around.' It's a rabble-rousing local neighborhood anthem, made even more wobbly Brian McGowan's great saw playing (a near constant and enjoyable sound through the album), and a great introduction to the band. 'Amazing Platypus' goes on like that, melding bandmembers' love for depression era rags, old time music, and folky protest songs with more contemporary nods and plenty of local color. Sometimes they do their own take on a traditional, like fictional train song with chantey harmonies, 'Wabash Cannonball.' Or they'll combine their own lyrics with something done by another jug band--like the mid-tempo 'Van Doozy Days,' which combines lyrical love for Van Duzer Street with a tune by Memphis Jug Band. But some of the best stuff comes in the CD's originals; the lazy, plucky banjo tune by Wahoo Skiffle Crazies illustrationChris Sorrentino An illustration of the Wahoo Skiffle Crazies Carl Gallagher, 'Kentucky Derby Day,' is an immediate favorite, not only for it's simplicity in arrangement, but for having an obvious effortless origin (I'm guessing an incredibly hot, slightly drunk, summer afternoon). And the instrumental 'Platypus' interludes, while offering more of a histrionic semblance of a concept album than anything actually tying the thing together thematically, do offer a respite from the band's more grating tendencies (playing too much, too often, sounding too samey, etc.). Still, if you're not into the Wahoos' particular kind of music, you shouldn't be listening anyway, and those who know what they've signed up for will definitely enjoy this album. Engineered and produced by ever-busy local Joe Pecora at his Red Room Studio, the recording sounds mostly clear--a feat for a band that operates with a regular and purposeful element of cacophony. Even the strangest instruments take solos, from Rob Yuzuk's kazoo to Dan Gallagher's bucket bass, and that's the kind of everybody-gets-some socialism we can all appreciate, right? All in all, 'Strange Tales of the Amazing Platypus' may not exactly divulge too much of the reasoning behind it's name. The Amazing Platypus is a early 20th century boat, perhaps, a comical Titanic bound for tragedy on which the Wahoo Skiffle Crazies are the house band? It's up to the listener to decide. But Chris Sorrentino's illustrations--great as always--give you some hints. And really, does it matter? The band's proletarian aesthetic, their history-conscious documentation of the modern neighborhood bacchanalia, is unique and enjoyable. Steal yourself a copy, pop it in, raise your cup and raise your voice with the Wahoo Skiffle Crazies...and imagine the crackle of an old phonograph as you do it. Ben Johnson.