Asylum Street Spankers,
What? And Give up Show Biz?
(Yellow Dog, 2008)

There is nothing genteel about the Asylum Street Spankers, beginning with the acronym. On this double CD, compiled from highlights of a two-week gig in New York City in January 2008, that fact is underscored in the title, the punch line to an old, preposterous yet sharp-edged scatological joke. Let's be clear up front: What? And Give Up Show Biz? is not for the prudish, the faint of heart, the easily offended, the politically correct or the Christian rightist.

As for the rest of us ... well, it's undeniably funny, but nobody is going to escape the occasional cringe or squirm. Country blues is a notable influence here, but if the old bluesmen were notorious for their outrageous sexual metaphors, the Spankers eschew the metaphor part of that equation altogether. If you'd rather not hear sexual body parts and sexual practices identified by their actual names, be warned that they're everywhere and come out of nowhere, even if in songs with ostensibly innocent titles, "My Country's Calling Me" for one appalling example.

Anything for a laugh, in other words, and it's just about impossible not to respond accordingly, even if the stimulus is a wee-wee joke. If there is no bladder humor in "Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV," which in fact has a sober message, it is also the side-splitting parody that the saccharine "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree" has had coming in spades ever since Tony Orlando & Dawn dropped it on us 35 years ago.

But the Spankers, an eight-member acoustic outfit offering up a roots-meet-vaudeville vibe, also happen to be first-rate musicians. When that's their intention, they can do it straight to unexpectedly affecting effect. Besides playing everything from musical saw to tenor banjo to various guitars to ukulele, Christina Marrs is a strong singer of blues, hokum, trad jazz and classic-pop material. Wammo -- one presumes not his birth name -- is also a decent vocalist, not to mention an able performer on harmonica, washboard, percussion and -- it says here -- "rubber chicken."

Born in 1994, based in Austin, the Spankers amount to a kind of neo-jug band, a raunchy (or more raunchy) extension of the raucous but artistically disciplined revival sound fashioned by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in the mid- to latter 1960s. The Spankers are in that league. They also have the advantage, however, of having been around longer, to shape their musical personality and approach in a way that makes them finally more than the sum of their influences, and just themselves.

review by
Jerome Clark

1 November 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new