The Squirrel Nut Zippers
By Jessica Brandt
Okay, so this album doesn't come out for another month, but we at The
Shrubbery got our grubby little hands on a copy a couple months early.
This review is just to get you ready for the August 4th release date.
Another note about this review: I am a huge Squirrel Nut Zippers fan. I'm
not saying that the review will be biased, because I think that you either
love the Zippers or you just don't care (For example, I love the Squirrel
Nut Zippers, but I think Jason just doesn't care). I reccommend their
music to everyone, to at least give them one listen. You might be blown
away. Or, like I said, you won't really care.
Long-time SNZ fans will recognize at least half of these songs from them
being part of their live show for at least two years now. Perrenial
Favorites is the third major release for the band. It's definitely
different than the previous album, Hot, just as that one was
different than The Inevitable. With this one, the Zippers dig even
deeper into their musical toybox and utilize many different instruments.
For example, there is much more of Jimbo's trombone work (finally!),
especially in the first track, "Suits are Picking Up the Bill" (due to be
the first single released, so keep an eye out for this one.)
Track two, "Low Down Man," is an incredibly sweet ballad, sung by Katherine
Whalen, and will surely move her higher up in diva status. It's got a
country feel, thanks to the pedal steel guitar, and also uses a piano
background which is new for the Zippers, and has no other instrumentation
except a slow bassline. That song melts into "The Ghost of Stephen
Foster," which begins with the feel of a ghostly ship drifting through the
fog (new instrument: ship bell) and uses some fantastic violin (played by
long-time colaborator, Andrew Bird) to give the song that eerie feeling.
It also contains one of my favorite lines from the album "Ships were made
for sinking/Whiskey made for drinking/ If we were made of cellophane we'd
all get stinking drunk much faster [ha ha ha]." What does that mean? I
don't know, but you have to hear the way he says it...
"Pallin' With Al" comes next, which is a song guitarist/vocalist Tom
Maxwell wrote in honor of his guitar idol, Al Casey. Fans will recognize
this tune from the EP Sold Out which was released about six months
ago. "Fat Cat keeps Getting Fatter," reminds me of (now don't laugh)
something from that Disney movie The Aristocats. I have never seen
the movie, but I used to listen to the album constantly and when I heard
this song, I could have sworn I'd heard it before! If, when the album
comes out, you agree with me, please mail me.
The only problem I have with this album is with track six, "Trou Macacq."
I first heard it while travelling in my car, and I just about got into an
accident when the sound shifted totally to my right speaker. I was so mad,
because I thought I had gotten that FIXED....but no, it was just the CD.
Anyway, the song is about the trials and tribulations of being in a band.
This is one of the songs that has been in the band's setlist for a few
years now. It's a great little story, and I can see Rob Zombie helping out
with a cartoon video version of this track!
"My Drag" is another Katherine ballad, which will definitely have the girls
(and guys, if you're that way) singing along in the bathroom mirror.
"Soon" and "Evening at Lafitte's" are next, and are also both usually
included in a Zipper setlist.
Track ten, "The Kraken," was described by Jimbo at the Zipper's last
Cleveland concert as "Continuing to look at the dark side of Tom Maxwell's
psyche." Think The Beatles' "Revolution 9" done in Zipperstyle. The
album's only instrumental track, it uses steel drum, harp, various bangs
and smashes, as well as no set melody. I can also hear this as part of
another tripped-out Disney cartoon. The end is a 360-degree turn from the
rest of the song, but I'll let you find out for yourself.
The album ends with "That Fascinating Thing" and the aptly titled "It's
Over." The former being a sort of a strip-tease sounding song. It
features some more trombone work as well. "It's Over" begins with some
musical gobbeldygook (Zippers rummaging through that ol' musical toybox?
hmmm?) and "Just when you think the party's starting/ It's over, it's over,
This album sounds to be roughly produced, and not as polished as Hot
was, but I do believe that's the sound the Zippers are going for. It will
be interesting to see how any singles from this album fare. They do their
recording "live," as in they do not usually record tracks seperately and
mix them in a studio. Recording is done with the whole band in one room to
get the feel of a live show, which is a great concept for this band's
genre. Another interesting thing about this album, is that they really
utilize violinist Andrew Bird, as he appears in practically every song.
This is exciting, because he adds a lot more than you'd think to the music,
especially in "The Ghost of Stephen Foster," which wouldn't be much of a
ghost story without him. Hopefully, we'll see Bird travelling with the
Zippers on their next time around.
I'd reccomend this album to any Zipper fans, for sure. If you're not a fan
and just want to swing, I suggest picking up Hot first. On a whole,
there is more instrumental preludes and each song sounds very different
than the others, which isn't quite the case with the other two albums. The
Squirrel Nut Zippers have used their popularity and well-built fanbase to
let themselves have more freedom in their music, and I'm likin' it.
Special thanks to Taylor at Mammoth Records for giving us this sneak
preview. Look for Perrenial Favorites in stores on August 4th,
which will be an "enhanced CD" like Hot was.