Carrying coals to Newcastle is a common expression denoting a somewhat pointless enterprise and one might reasonably ask why should youlisten to a jumpin’ jive old time blues and ragtime crew from “the Toon” given that the “genuine” article is not too hard to find. Not too hard perhaps but for the most part ragtime et al has been polished to a sheen and presented as preserved in aspic typically by the likes of The Pasadena Roof Orchestra. While Robert Crumb has valiantly championed old time music over the years credit must be given to Pokey LaFarge who has reclaimed the vibrancy and occasional loucheness of the genre. Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra follow the LaFarge route with their loose limbed (although tightly played) blasts from the past with their sights set firmly on the most important aspect of this vintage music, namely that it swings. No stiff suited formality here as Heron and the band stroll insouciantly through an album that incorporates western swing, scattting, Hot Club de Paris jive, zoot suit hipsterism and even some rockabilly.
Aside from their threads which portray the band as descendants of Richard Attenborough’s portrayal of Pinkie in Brighton Rock there’s a sense of dedication here as they delve into a monochrome and foggy world of slot machines and end of pier escapades. There’s a significant gear change from their debut with the band as synchronised as a well oiled machine while Heron’s writing has moved on apace. The opening Drinking Coffee Rag zips along with a fine sense of glee and finely honed guitar while the rhythm section and horns vamp wonderfully. Soleil is a bass driven and accordion laced weather report that struts magnificently while Junk On the Radio incorporates a clip clop western intro before Heron laments on the soullessness of modern media and a deranged keyboard approximates the fiddling about with wavelengths. There’s a hint of Slim Gaillard on Mr. Landlord along with some very sweet and fat pedal steel while Small Time Blues harks back to Hank Williams with some fine fiddle playing and Heron’s yodelling. It’s apparent by now that Heron and the band are well tuned into their lodestone but Killed By Love towers above its predecessors as the band vamp excellently and Heron dredges up biblical allusions on what amounts to an aural equivalent to a penny cinema show. Great stuff here. High Speed Train updates Lonnie Donegan with regard to the proposed high speed trainline to the north while I’m Feeling Blue will touch anyone who’s turned to the bottle after a setback. They finish off with the clattering blues of Penny Drop Mambo as if they were zoot suited on Brighton Pier and transported via Canvey Island to Rio De Janeiro while the Spike Jones type romp that is Don’t kick That Oven Door again zips along with some splendid percussive breaks that are just this side of zany.
Overall this is a great slice of old time music that beefs up its influences and points to a great time ahead. They’re slick, syncopated and swing. And in the end that’s what counts.