White Ghost Shivers
The Austin, Texas scene has survived and thrived for decades, outlasting brief artistic novae from places like Athens, Minneapolis, Raleigh/Durham and Seattle. Another notch on Austins musical barrel can be attributed to decidedly irreverent 7-piece combo the White Ghost Shivers, who harken back to the string band days of the Roaring 20s while adding elements of bawdy cabaret, bluegrass, swing and raunchy blues. Not unlike a volatile batch of bathtub gin, the music is potent, dynamic, a little dangerous and, once youre properly acclimated, easy to swallow. And funny as hell.
The instrumentation on Everyone's Got 'Em is period-correct: saxophone, prominent banjo, upright bass and acoustic guitar; theyre all played with equal parts precision and abandon. The title tracks jittery rag is chock-full of cheeky humor and old-fashioned vibe. My imagination instantly conjured up the singing frog from that old Looney Tunes cartoon, warbling as several monocle-wearing Monopoly bankers jitterbugged along, fingers wagging. That was during the opening song, mind you.
The bands mixture of pathos and humor shines on Mama Said which features brassy female vocals intoning morbid lines like In the end the worms will have their say, all the while inducing Happy Feet. Its certainly the peppiest rumination on death, the devil and retribution Ive heard in awhile.
The Ghost Song creeps along on a brooding clarinet line and trudging rhythm, while the narrators quavering, almost strangling vocal describes the haunting of someone who once performed a terrible deed. The staircase-climbing-and-falling accordion adds to the almost visual depth of the instrumentation, which effectively conveys a gothic oldness and coldness. Its still a hoot, though.
The jarring My Land is hilariously disorienting, as a retro-genteel rag is overrun by the ribald modernity of its lyrics, which (among other things) mention mullets, Camaros and liquor store robberies.
The White Ghost Shivers give the impression of a particularly aggressive 20s-era band transported to the present and realizing the ruckus they make is not only novel but also highly entertaining - so they naturally step up the energy level another notch. Yiddish fiddles rival modern guitar leads, manic banjos pump out feverish rhythms and horns leapfrog and argue throughout the faster numbers, leaving the listener more breathless than the players.