Humour in music is difficult to write about. Is a humorous act just a joke or something to be listened to in the same manner one would listen to the latest album from, say, Ryan Adams? Probably not yet the rock’n’roll road is littered with some great songs, usually listed under “novelty,” that stand the test of time. One of the arbiters of what’s a good “novelty” song is the great Dr. Demento, an LA institution since the early seventies and champion of Nervous Norfus, Weird Al Jankovic and Barnes and Barnes (the exquisite song, Fish Heads). So, it’s a badge of honour that Dr. Demento has recently cast his eye in the direction of Scotland, specifically those kings of Mirth ‘n’ Roll Roberto & The Tickety 2 featuring two of their songs on his show, White Wine from their first album and Harley Davidson from Middle Age Spread, their latest release.
Well, who are we to disagree with Dr. Demento as he’s spot on with his picks here. Roberto & The Tickety 2 are a Perthshire based trio who actually have some great musical chops. Roberto handles his double bass with some dexterity as Dave Clelland lays down some fine percussion. Topping this is the guitar work of Owen Nicholson, an ace guitarist who, instead of his usual country rock licks, plays some excellent jazzy guitar lines; in fact I’m sure that if you were to hear the album without the vocal track you’d think this was by someone like Barney Kessel. Fine as that is Roberto Cassani ensures that the songs have the main ingredient required of a fine novelty song, i.e. novelty, fun, humour and such. Listening to the songs here which accurately spear some social notions and poke fun at well-deserved targets there was a thought that he’s working in the same sphere as ace humorists Tom Lehrer and Ivor Cutler, his words fired at various Aunt Sally’s. So we get a salute to baldness (“men are boys until they’re bald”), the perils of the male menopause (Harley Davidson) and a jab at hipsters (Grizzly Adams) among others. There’s broad humour in the very funny Man For My Mum with Cassani importuning George Clooney lookalikes in the pub lavatory in a search for a new dad, sleazy Soho boho jazz on Pane & Salame with Cassani coming across like Paulo Conte and some very fine cod Mexicali drama on Pedro. Best of all is the hazy, almost Tiki laidback groove of Don’t Grow Up, a fine warning to children throughout the world.
It’s all still tongue in cheek but definitely a step up from their first album Manflu and best of all for a comedy album it’s one that you can listen to time and again as it does groove and the lyrics reveal new nuggets time and again.
A new album from Phil Lee is cause for celebration, a musical Maverick perhaps but as Blabber’n’Smoke said in the review of his previous album, “he captures what may be the true sense of Americana, able to toss songs off with just an acoustic guitar that stand alongside the likes of John Prine, hit the honky tonks with tremendous truck driving stories, dig a southern soul groove or get deep and dirty with the blues. Irreverent, profane and above all laughing at the cosmic irrelevance of it all.” And so it is with his latest, Some Gotta Lose… the title coming about as Lee explains in a recent interview with Blaine Schultz., “Mainly I got the idea from never having a snappy come back to the query, “you’re so dang fabulous (I paraphrase) how come it is I’ve never heard of you?” (That with the implication it’s somehow it’s my fault. The noive)…My pat answer became ‘Hey, some gotta lose’.”
It’s this sense of not taking himself too seriously that endears him to many but deep down Lee is seriously stewed in rock’n’roll with a back history that would make a fine biopic peopled with the likes of Neil Young, The Burritos, Wilco and Alison Moorer. Above all he’s a gifted songwriter and his albums should never ever be filed under humour despite the occasional joke.
Produced by Willy Mason Some Gotta Lose… is a wonderfully warm and loose limbed album. Recorded pretty much live, warts and all in a house in upstate New York Lee visits the blues, country, soul and even tango with his band hitting a fine groove throughout. Drums rattle and guitars buzz and burn, the organ glowers and Lee’s hipster voice is accompanied by female harmonies on several of the songs. The groove is important with Lee explaining that the live recording set up allowed the band to stretch out at times trying “telepathically to figure out who should play a solo or just hang out.” There’s some bum notes apparently but the overall impression is of a bunch of musicians cutting loose and having a great time.
The album opens with the Southern soulfulness of Ain’t No Love with guitar licks aplenty summoning up a swampy rhythm before harmonies and harmonica glide in. Halfway through the song picks up tempo as the band riff on the melody while Lee sings the chorus before taking it home. There’s more Southern grooves on Don’t tell me Now with Lee getting lascivious with an ex who has blossomed into a catch whose “breasts got fuller and kiss got sweeter.” Lee and the band plead wonderfully with yearning guitar echoing his sentiments as the song meanders to its end. Sex rears its head again on No Taking It Back only here Lee is hesitant in the moment of triumph, pondering the aftermath while the churchlike organ drenched This One is another soulful meditation on a past lover that is bitter sweet in its Muscle Shoal type delivery. Lee ends this song on harmonica as the organ swells taking it into Stray Gators territory.
Wake Up Crying is a zippy Dylan fuelled 60’s blast sounding like an outtake from Highway 61 with Bloomfield like guitar bursts and there’s some real retro rockabilly on the cover of the traditional Lil Liza Jane. Kiss Of Fire is an audacious tango with Lee playing up to his comic persona but even so its compelling listening. Finally, there’s the country lament of If Frogs Had Wings, a fiddle sawing away offering comparison to Dylan again, this time circa Desire. A death row prisoner’s final thoughts with Peckinpah imagery thrown in it’s simply fantastic.