Double Standard String Band,
Double Standard String Band
(Vent, 2001)

Some time back I reviewed a CD by Les Daniels and Rick Lee (Dr. Daniels & Mr. Lee) which contained songs written by Daniels and Martin Mull and recorded in 1998. Now Vent Recordings of Rhode Island has released what might be termed "The Basement Tapes" of these songs. Twelve of the sixteen tracks here were recorded way back in 1966 by Daniels and Mull, along with Sam Tidwell on fiddle, mandolin and guitar, and Bob Tidwell on bass. It's a fun, quirky set of songs, unfortunately marred by the sub-par vintage recording techniques.

Four of the tracks are from the 1998 Daniels/Lee session, and they're great fun and well recorded (see my earlier review for full details). It's the older tracks that might give listeners trouble. "Cleveland," a funny parody of all those "I-miss-the-old-home-place" songs, gets a fine, hokey treatment, but the vocals are so far back in the mix that it's difficult to catch all the lyrics, an audio sin that's repeated frequently here. Daniels' "Cowboy Song" is next, an eerie, modal song that gets better every time I hear it, but again, the lyrics are hard to hear.

There's no problem with the lyrics on Daniels' "The Sultan of Badenkill," since it's an instrumental, and a dandy one, with some nice fiddling from Sam Tidwell. The lyrics of "I Just Broke Jail" are a delight, but in this version they're tough to make out, as are those in Mull's "I Might Have Changed My Mind." When you can hear them, they're quite funny. "Chinese New Year Waltz" and Mull's "The Perfect Song" are delightful, too, but with the same caveat. In Daniels' "The Coyote Kid," however, I was actually able to make out most of the lyrics, and it's a terrific little song.

There's fine picking in the instrumental, "Harrolan's Mare," but "The Great Bellevue Murder Mystery" is sunk by the lack of (you guessed it) intelligible lyrics. "Pants" is damn silly and a lot of fun, and Daniels' "Breakdown of Society" is a good instrumental breakdown which brings the album to a zippy close.

Most of these songs are on the Daniels/Lee album, and are thoroughly comprehensible there, so I would suggest that those who wish to explore the Mull/Daniels collaborations and solo work start there. If your appetite has been whetted for more, turn to the Double Standard String Band. The instrumental work is excellent throughout these older recordings, with Daniels' banjo providing strong support throughout. It's useless to criticize what was recorded close to 40 years ago (probably under adverse conditions), but the lack of clear lyrics severely undercuts the charm of these witty and clever songs.

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 6 July 2002