George McClure,
Champagne Saturday (I Made
Love to an Alien Last Night)

(JIP Records, 1999)

This was the first contemporary western swing album I've heard, and it was great! It reminded me somewhat of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, especially their Christmas CD; most of the songs blended this with an old-style country sound as well. Except for the theme of the alternative title track, "Alien Love," this whole CD almost sounds like it appeared in a time warp from 50 years or so back, and the inclusion of real oldies such as "Wahoo," first recorded in the '30s and sounding like it added to this impression -- and I mean that as a compliment!

The old-style country sounds point up the connection between country and bluegrass, just as many bluegrass songs show the style's origins in Celtic music. I've known this for a while, though, so for me the most interesting musical connection was the combination of country and swing. I've loved swing for a long time, and country more recently, and yet I was unaware of a musical style that combines them! This album was an eye-opener, and immediately struck me as both odd and wonderful.

Many of these songs are covers. "Wahoo," mentioned above, is my favorite with its strong bluegrass feel. "Take Me Back to Tulsa" is in a similar style, with a sound reminiscent of the Austin Lounge Lizards.

"El Rancho Grande" is another old song here brought back by McClure, with a bit of a Latin feel this time. "El Lumino" shares this -- it's a bilingual, somewhat Mexican cover of "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" and it came as quite a surprise to me the first time I listened to the album.

McClure's original songs, "Alien Love" and "Champagne Saturday," are high points of the CD. "Alien Love" is another song that reminded me of the Austin Lounge Lizards (one of my favorite groups), with its blend of contemporary country/bluegrass with a very untraditional theme making a catchy and fun song. "Champagne Saturday" blends country and swingtime jazz into a nostalgic sound with a romantic theme.

Two other tracks deserve a special mention: "Mass Grass" has a great jazz sound, and is the album's only instrumental track. I enjoyed the changing time signatures of "Can't Drown Your Memory" a lot. It combines a polka rhythm verse with a waltz-rhythm chorus, and the transitions between the two are handled expertly. It's lots of fun to hear, and I'd love to see how dancers transition from one to the other.

While I haven't specifically mentioned all the eleven songs here, they're all good ones. This album's most serious flaw, I think, is that it's only too short -- at only 26 minutes, it's brief. I wish McClure had included a few more songs to make this a full-length CD.

Which brings me to a mystery. A goodly amount of the liner is taken up with the words to a song called "The Young, The Nomadic (Last Chance on the Prairie)," which is numbered zero and which does not appear to be on the CD. I know some CDs contain hidden bonus tracks, but this doesn't seem to be one of them. I'm puzzled.

The arrangements and musicianship here deserve a special mention. All the performances are excellent, and the arrangements are varied and lively. The pacing of the album is good, too.

I like this CD a lot, and will be looking for more contemporary western swing. I love the blends of genres within each song and in the album as a whole, and recommend it to everyone who enjoys this, especially other fans of the Austin Lounge Lizards and Brave Combo (particularly in its non-polka work).

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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