I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: One of the nicest perks of this assignment is that I frequently get to hear tracks from local bands before they’re released. The 9th Street Stompers are the latest example of that. They are putting the finishing touches on their new EP scheduled for release in June, but I’ve had the privilege of listening to it all morning long and, kids, it’s fantastic.
My first thought upon firing the tracks up was, “Hey, someone call Garrison Keillor and see if he’s missing a band.” Is the reference unclear? “A Prairie Home Companion” is renowned for its high caliber of music and the house band, Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band, is legendary. The 9th Street Stompers are every bit their equal—and are snazzier dressers to boot.
The Stompers have been described variously as swing, rockabilly, jazz, gypsy, tango and blues and that’s as fair, accurate (and brief) a description as can be given. This is no mere nostalgia; they have captured the look, sound and feel of early 20th-century American music as well as or better than anyone else I’ve ever heard, and it is glorious.
Bassist Skip Frontz Jr. and guitarist/uke/kazoo player Lon Eldridge share mic duties. Their vocals are as crisp, clean and picture perfect as their dapper duds (wingtips are coming BACK, baby!). Dalton Chapman sizzles on guitar. The eminent Christy Burns tickles the honky-tonk ivories while “drummer extraordinaire” Bryan Gross bangs the skins. John Boulware’s fiddle flows like hot syrup on pancakes, the perfect finishing touch to an absolutely top-notch ensemble.
There are four tracks on the EP, the first of which is “The Axman (of New Orleans),” a familiar subject to residents of the Big Easy, as well as fans of “American Horror Story”. It is the hallmark of this kind of swing music that it is jaunty, upbeat and infectiously toe-tapping...while discussing the nuances of an early 20th-century serial killer.
“Chattanooga Blues” is the second track, a languid and leisurely stroll through familiar neighborhoods with perhaps a quick stop off for a pig-foot and a bottle of beer.
The third track is called “Cooking with Gas”, and the name says it all. This frenetic piece alternates between dazzling guitar work, lilting fiddle and ragtime piano. I’ll admit, I would have liked to hear the string bass get a chance to come out front for a turn too, but I’d wager that’s a thing reserved for live performances and future recordings.
The final track is another “get up and move” tune called “New Baby” and here the lyrics and vocals demonstrate virtuosity no less impressive than the instrumentation.
The band has achieved something wonderful with this effort. They have managed to demonstrate an exceptional level of technical proficiency without losing any of the fun, flavor or spirit of the music—a win-win, and my only complaint is that it’s an EP and not a full album. There are worse things to say about a band than “they are so good they leave you wanting more”. When June rolls around, you’re going to want to pick up a copy of the EP, grab a bottle of bootleg hooch and settle back in the front porch rocking chair.
Until then, if you want to experience their vintage goodness, you’ll just have to catch a live show. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tie an onion to my belt.