Review - Asylum Street Spankers
Asylum Street Spankers
The Linda, Oct. 17
The tall, bearded guy manning the merch table last Saturday at the Linda Norris Auditorium knew the story behind their name: The now successful Americana band had started out in the mid-1990s busking along Guadalupe Street in Austin. That’s the main thoroughfare running through the University of Texas campus, and it passes an administration building that once housed the state’s lunatic asylum. Drawing on blues, early country music, Tin Pan Alley songs, and pre-swing jazz, the Asylum Street Spankers have since put out 10 albums of rootsy charm featuring knockout vocals, brisk picking, and some rather raunchy originals (appropriately, on sale along with the usual CDs and T-shirts were red bikini panties bearing on their rears the invitation, “Spank me”).
For the release of their new gospel album, God’s Favorite Band,
the septet—Christina Marrs on guitar, tenor banjo, ukulele, vocals,
and musical saw; Nevada Newman on guitar; Shawn Dean on fiddle; Mark
Henne on drums; Morgan Patrick Thompson on upright bass; David Long on
mandolin and guitar; and a singer, harmonica and washboard player known
only as Wammo (don’t ask)—offered a fabulous, two-tone show consisting
first of material from their latest CD, and then tunes celebrating
worldly pleasures. The English poet William Blake came to mind here;
this performance was truly an American edition of his 1794 volume
Songs of Innocence and Experience.
The Spankers opened with the antebellum spiritual, “Wade in the Water.” With Marrs’ robust singing over the band’s murmuring background harmonies, the vocals were faithful to the classic black gospel style. In a bluesy original, “Right and Wrong,” the flamboyant Wammo drew laughter when he sang, “I ain’t got no problem with Buddha, he’s a huge Nirvana fan.” But the peak of the holy half of the concert was their ne plus ultra cover, also sung by Wammo, of George Gershwin’s slinky repudiation of Biblical literalism, “It’s Ain’t Necessarily So.”
Salvation dispensed with, the spotlight swung to sin and secular humanism. First was “PBR,” an ode to Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sung by Wammo, who while onstage downed a good half-dozen brewskis himself. Marrs, accompanied by bass and guitar, amazed the house with a performance on musical saw of Camille Saint-Saen’s 1886 composition “The Swan,” famously recorded by cellist Pablo Casals in the 1920s. Her intonation lacked Casals’ accuracy, but that was entirely forgivable. She shined again with her lusty vocals on the risque Bessie Smith classic, “I Need a Little Sugar in my Bowl.”
Roots fans who miss the Asylum Street Spankers the next time they’re around ought to be committed. Or spanked.
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