The Spinners

Archive for the ‘Swing’ Category

♪ Hell (Squirrel Nut Zippers, 1996) ♪

In Jazz, Rex Baylon, Swing, Track Reviews on April 12, 2010 at 6:43 am

Released in 1996, “Hell” became Squirrel Nut Zippers’ calling card. For better or for worse it defined the band as Hot Jazz stylists. While most people were still dressed in torn jeans and flannel shirts, Squirrel Nut Zippers came out of left field and played something that wasn’t exactly rock, not quite alternative, and somewhat befuddling to jazz purists.

Their first single, “Hell”, is a modern-day Inferno set in a calypso rhythm that features lyrics far too bizarre and dark for many of its mainstream listeners to understand. In spite of the track’s unique qualities, it was a huge hit, due in no small part to the swing revival. Yet unlike many of the songs that emerged out of the neo-swing movement, “Hell” has stood the test of time because it went against the grain of what modern audiences expected from big-band music. While Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Flying Neutrinos, and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies borrowed riffs wholesale from the Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw songbook, Squirrel Nut Zippers rummaged through the dustbins of music history and took only what they needed. Listening to the song it’s never quite clear if Tom Maxwell’s lyrics are meant to be a cautionary tale or merely a parody of one, but with a song this good, who cares? When it comes to Squirrel Nut Zippers it’s not so much about what the song is trying to say, but how they say it.

– Rex Baylon

Download “Hell”

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Perennial Favorites (Squirrel Nut Zippers, 1998)

In American, Jazz, Rex Baylon, Swing on April 10, 2010 at 11:39 am

Although long forgotten now, in the mid-nineties, the neo-swing boom, for a short period of time, caught the world by storm. Zoot suits, martini bars, and the street patios of Prohibition-era America all claimed dominion over the entire continental US. With the popularity of Doug Liman’s Swingers you couldn’t enjoy a drink at a bar without someone quoting a line from the film ad nauseam. And alongside the mainstream revival of swing music itself came the stampede of amateur musicians and dancers who jumped on the bandwagon snapping their fingers and stomping their feet; many ignorant of the differences between the Lindy Hop and a Jitterbug or the complicated histories of Dixieland and Swing music.

While bands like The Flying Neutrinos and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy hold the listeners’ hands while giving them a guided tour of their grandparents music, Squirrel Nut Zippers grabs you by the throat and puts your ear right next to the speaker, making you feel the rawness of their sound. Squirrel Nut Zippers treats swing not as some long dead genre to be imitated through the most superficial of melodies, but as a living and ever-evolving form of music. They scored their first success with the hit single “Hell” in 1996, but it is in 1998, upon the release of Perennial Favorites, when they firmly went from retro-kitsch band to full-fledged musicians.

Squirrel Nut Zippers brought back the danger and the raunchiness of Hot Jazz. The frenetic tempo, syncopated drumbeats, and squealing of horns made the music primal, translating our basest desires into a danceable soundtrack. By combining the properties of ragtime, gypsy jazz, Delta blues, klezmer, and swing, they transcended the pop confines of the music genre that the press boxed them in. Like any true artist they didn’t just copy the style—they made it their own. For that, I tip my hat to Squirrel Nut Zippers. After giving this album a listen I am certain you also will.

– Rex Baylon