It was the Bonzo Dog Band who, back in the sixties, declared, “Jazz, delicious hot, disgusting cold” on their deliriously loopy trad jazz instrumental of the same name. Supreme satirists as they were they had nailed it on the head as they took the mickey out of bands such as The New Vaudeville Band and The Temperance Seven both of whom had hit the charts but were regarded as novelty acts. We mention this as the California Feetwarmers are probably the best opportunity you’ll ever get these days to hear the sort of music that the Bonzos’ were championing in their early days, a vaudevillian extravaganza that summons up images of Keystone cops, spats, flappers and gangsters, speakeasies and ragtime, black and white Hollywood, Hawaiian luaus or a Dixieland New Orleans soundtrack waiting for a Woody Allen movie.
A seven piece band who are now based in LA The Feetwarmers boast sousaphone, trumpet, clarinet and trombone over a guitar, banjo and drums backbone creating a vibrant and exhilarating rollercoaster ride of a listen. A syncopated time capsule of sorts Silver Seas features a mix of originals and tunes from the likes of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (from 1925) and Scott Joplin (1903) with a fine sense of variety. The majority of the numbers are supremely skittish romps but there are some stately moments (as on Dixie Waltz) while there’s a hint of Western swing on Betty Brown, one of the few songs with vocals the other being the sublime The Breeze That Brought Me Home, wonderfully gilded with steel guitar from guest Andy Bean. Wooden Nickel allows the banjo and guitar some space away from the horns on a tune that is more mountain stream than bordello. Overall the band’s playing is simply mesmerising, their sense of dynamics, the parps and oompahs perfectly aligned with the jazzy guitar, banjo burps and rattletrap percussion. It’s hard not to think of cinematic references while listening to this. UK listeners will have a trove of memories, gleaned from TV and movies ranging from cartoons to serious directors such as Sergio Leone (and one is reminded of his Once Upon A Time In America), that these tunes could have easily sprung from.
So the album’s a winner but apparently these guys are fabulous live with Tom Jones, the Welsh Elvis apparently falling under their spell recently when he chanced upon them. Good news is they’re currently touring the UK and will have advance copies of the album for sale at the gigs. All dates here including a show at Glasgow’s CCA this Sunday
Here’s some video from their Celtic Connections appearance in 2015.