Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem,
Cocktail Swing
(Signature Sounds, 2001)

How many times have you gone to your CD rack looking for something purely entertaining, only to come away with nothing? During those times, new music is a godsend. Music that is completely different from anything you own. Music that makes you smile and dance around the living room. I venture to say that an open mind and Cocktail Swing by Rani Arbo and her band, daisy mayhem, will get you over the worst of your "I hate all my music" slumps.

"So, who's Rani Arbo? And what's a daisy mayhem?" The band's website asks and answers this question. Rani is a talented fiddler with a rich, alto voice that sounds at home across genres. She has been performing for 10 years, first as the lead singer of a band called Salamander Crossing and now with daisy mayhem. According to the website, daisy mayhem, the touring band, is made up of Andrew Kinsey, vocals and ukulele; Scott Kessel, percussion and harmony vocals; and Anand Nyak, harmony vocals and guitar. On the CD, the band also includes Dave Dick, a former member of Salamander Crossing, on mandolin, guitar and tenor banjo; Matt Weiner on bass; and David Hamburger on guitar, dobro and tenor banjo. Special guest Dan Fox adds his trombone to two tracks.

Cocktail Swing is an all-cover album of blues, jazz and bluegrass tunes. There are also a couple of ukulele numbers, which are a category unto themselves. The selections are rather short -- eight of the twelve are less than 3 minutes -- and often leave you wanting more.

The CD opens with Guy Clark's "Baby Took a Limo to Memphis." This track introduces us to Rani's emoting voice and fiddle along with some good supporting vocal harmony. Another whole band cut is "I Get the Blues When it Rains." This arrangement is done New Orleans style, including rowdy background singers and a slide trombone.

Several songs, including a couple of jazz standards, feature Rani's vocals. On "That's All," her phrasing is in perfect Billie Holiday style, delicately accompanied by David Hamburger's guitar and her own fiddle. She delivers "Comes Love" with all of the humor and spunk that its lyrics intend, sliding along effortlessly with the guitar, banjo and bass accompaniment. Rani's first-rate duets with Andrew Kinsey on the country/bluegrass tune, "Once More," and with Anand Nyak on Lefty Frizell's "I Do My Cryin' at Night," further demonstrate how comfortable she is with her voice.

The title track on the CD is the only instrumental piece and was originally recorded by French "Gypsy Jazz" guitarist Sarane Ferret in the '30s. "Cocktail Swing" features Rani Arbo on fiddle and Dave Hamburger on guitar in a rare combination that is executed with instrumental proficiency and enthusiasm.

This brings us to Andrew Kinsey and the ukulele tunes. Andrew, also a member of Salamander Crossing and Arbo's ten-year singing partner, reportedly carried a cassette full of ukulele tunes with him during the final year of SC's tour. A number of these appear on Cocktail Swing. Undoubtedly, the ukulele is much maligned and is an acquired taste that I have yet to acquire. Regardless, Kinsey strums it skillfully and his strong, melodic voice seems born to be paired with the uke.

In the liner notes, the band writes: "Several of these tunes do assert some dignity, but most couldn't give a hoot. We hope to inspire the same." In their quest to not take themselves too seriously, Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem have created an entertaining, light, diverse compilation that projects their overwhelming sense of fun, while introducing us to their considerable talent. Give it a listen the next time you want to smile and dance around the living room.

[ by Valerie Fasimpaur ]
Rambles: 17 November 2001

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