Review Summary: This debut album from The Squirrel Nut Zippers shows off their ability to perform their respective instruments, as well as their talent for making everything they write or arrange something that only they could pull off.
When somebody makes the suggestion to listen to a group named “The Squirrel Nut Zippers”, there really is no way to know what to expect. Groups tend to choose names that match their style of music, like “Metallica” or, you know, “Dallas Wind Symphony”. My first thought a few years ago when I first heard of The Squirrel Nut Zippers was that they were like Psapp, but instead of weird toy instruments, they use zippers to keep time like shakers and somehow use a variety of nuts to create experimental music. Oh, and all of the members are taxidermied squirrels. Spoiler alert: I was wrong. But if you happen to assume that The Squirrel Nut Zippers play gypsy jazz and swing music, you’d be correct!
is the band’s debut full length album from 1995, and it starts out with a bang. “Lover’s Lane” is quick, fun, catchy, and features an alto saxophone played by band member Ken Mosher that shares similar style to Paul Desmond, but just a little bit raunchier. The vocals on the track are smooth like butter, and really introduce the 1920s swing feel of the album quite well.
Most of the tracks are similar to “Lover’s Lane”, so if you have an issue with that one you may have an issue with the majority of the album. However not every track that shares this style on The Inevitable
is an original composition from the minds of the Squirrels. “I’ve Found A New Baby” was written by Jack Palmer and Spencer Williams and became a jazz standard after the famous recording by Clarence Williams’ Blue Five in 1926. This version however did not include any lyrics. The tune was recorded by the Benny Goodman Orchestra as well in 1940, also as an instrumental, and includes what is considered to be one of guitarist Charlie Christian’s most significant solos. The Squirrels’ radiant cover of the song differs quite a bit in feel than these standard recordings, but does not insult the tune in any way. It’s much more exciting and less laid back than older recordings, but it fits perfectly within The Inevitable
. The strangely suitable inclusion of guitars and banjos has a lot to do with that and goes to show just what this group is capable of accomplishing, something that is immensely important for a group’s debut.
Another cover on the album is “You’re Driving Me Crazy”, which is one of the five tracks to feature the group’s sole female member Katharine Whalen and her gorgeous vocals. This chart was written for the comedic musical Smiles
in 1930 by Walter Donaldson. There are countless recordings of this tune out there, including one by cartoon character Betty Boop, but not many are similar to the one on this album. Whalen beautifully performs the musical number with the other Squirrels providing rhythm (and even a guitar solo break) in a way that doesn’t ruin the style but allows it to flow indiscernibly with the rest of the record.
The other four tracks which Whalen takes the vocal lead (“Danny Diamond”, “Club Limbo”, “Wished For You” and “Anything But Love”) are some of the best on The Inevitable
. They’re semi-jazz ballads but usually go into some sort of quick and fun style. In fact, most of the 12 tracks feature an instrumental break in the middle that serves as a brilliantly crafted connection to bring beginnings and ends together. Even the instrumental track over halfway through the record, “Lugubrious Whing Whang” constantly adds layers and never has a dull moment. It makes for a great sort of intermission between the first seven tracks and the final four which close out The Inevitable
with as much fun and entertainment that it began with.
Although the group does an incredible job of keeping up style and theme throughout the album, it does have its moments of “I’m not quite sure why that happened, but I liked it anyway!”. However, the only track that is entirely like that is “La Grippe”. That’s not to say that it’s a bad tune by any means, it just doesn’t seem to match what came before it or what happens after it.
If you have any hesitation to get into this group of musicians, I strongly encourage you to put that hesitation aside for 35 minutes and listen to The Inevitable
. As a debut album there isn’t much more you could ask for. It’s got wild sax licks, soaring brass sounds, exciting banjo and guitar rhythms and beautiful and smooth vocals the entire way through. It’s just a fun and entertaining album that I truly believe anyone can enjoy.
I’ve Found A New Baby
Good Enough For Granddad
Lugubrious Whing Whang
You’re Drivin’ Me Crazy