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A Beautiful Corpse
By Bill Ketzer

Death by a Thousand Cuts/Travis Ryan

Untitled (Chromepeeler)

Now here’s an interesting thing. A split CD featuring the latest Chromepeeler Records acquisition, Death by a Thousand Cuts, and Travis Ryan, better known as the lead goat throat for Relapse Records’ death-metal cavalcade of putridity, Cattle Decapitation. This stuff is largely experimental, produced by shock therapy, alcohol withdrawal and the persistent late-night hum of the plastics plant outside suburban proper that you try to ignore. Ryan, best known for his 100-percent effects-free growl, reveals a not-so-surprisingly moribund sedated side here with interstellar traffic jams like “The Watertower,” but his piece de résistance is clearly “It’s a Miserable Life,” which juxtaposes various electronic media with death-scene confessionals, dentist drills and dissimulation of the crisp, unsettling sort. It’s the soundtrack to the ride you take to identify the body of a loved one.

Then enter DBTC’s Tommy Blast and Tara Struck with their toe-curling, mordant emissions that strangely mimic the psychotic dreamscapes of a beer-can dad’s forbidden, Nabokovian obsessions as he labors restlessly through sleep with a noisy test pattern on the TV. It’s like being trapped in an autoclave and force-fed the frequencies of some blessed but awful periodic table of the sacraments. Or excrements, take your pick. Much of this will be deemed obnoxious and overindulgent and will grate on the nerves of the middle class. But that’s kind of the point. For me, it’s about thresholds and tolerances. Weights and measures. Fight or flight. You can say what you want, but I can tell you that this isn’t about what it is, it’s about what it does. It’s hard to listen to any of this alone with the lights out. “I Walk Through Walls” and the reticulating “Some Motherfuckers Only Understand Hot Lead” will only continue to evolve, which is the beautiful, ephemeral thing about this body of deliciously perverse research. You can smell the death of natural selection. God has his mouth on their luxurious holes.

Reggie’s Red Hot Feetwarmers

Saratoga Souvenir (DDE)

In the midst of the rollicking circus known as the Saratoga Racetrack in August rises a jaunty swirl of music, trumpet and banjo and the happy shriek of a clarinet the first sounds you identify. And then you find them: Reggie’s Red Hot Feetwarmers, a throwback quintet in the shade of one of the big old trees, giving new voice to old standards.

They’ve been a summer racetrack fixture for more than 20 years, as well as a hugely popular ensemble in and outside the Capital Region. For this summer’s performances—and this latest CD release—they’ve added clarinetist Dan Levinson, an internationally renowned player because of his ability to excel in any jazz styling he chooses.

You’ll even hear him as a vocalist on “Kids,” the Bye-Bye Birdie tune that is anachronistically (but somehow appropriately) included on the CD—but there’s also a scintillating performance of “Istanbul, Not Constantinople” (popularized by They Might Be Giants) and a stylish original by the group’s banjo player, Peter Davis, titled “Saratoga.”

The bulk of the disc comprises songs written between 1917 and 1938, chestnuts like “Tiger Rag,” “China Boy,” James P. Johnson’s “Old-Fashioned Love” and even Clyde McCoy’s cloying “Sugar Blues,” which gets a more dignified treatment from this group.

The bass is usually the bulwark, and here it’s Reggie himself, Reggie Scanlon, who knows how to slap that thing in trad jazz style and also supplies vocals for several numbers. Trombonist Tom Shields and trumpeter Mike Canonico have absorbed the legacies of Teagarden, Beiderbecke and company.

Although the arrangements sometimes seem formulaic, it’s a formula that evolved early in the era of these songs, and it’s really just a reliable framework from which to hang the fascinating solos and byplay of the players. With the inspired clarinet work of Levinson soaring and weaving through the songs, it feels like a happy trip back in time, but one that’s fresh and eager and—well, just plain happy throughout. This CD is not only a great souvenir of the racetrack, it’s also a fantastic souvenir of the earlier roots of jazz.

—B.A. Nilsson

The Beau Brummels

Magic Hollow (Rhino Handmade)

This four-disc set covers the entire arc of the career of one of the great American bands from the ’60s. The Beau Brummels started out sounding like a stateside response to the Beatles, but were eclipsed by the Byrds in that role. Their two hits, “Laugh, Laugh” and “Just a Little” (produced by a young Sly Stewart), put them on the map, but with no subsequent ascents up the charts, their window on a large audience closed. However, their growth as an ensemble continued at a furious pace and mirrors the explorations of many of their contemporaries, with them charting a course that others followed to greater success. They went from a catchy beat band into the realm of gentle psychedelic folk and ultimately to Nashville and what was later to be called country-rock.

Based around the songwriting of Ron Elliott and the singing of Sal Valentino, the Beau Brummels remained identifiable throughout their stylistic evolution. While based in San Francisco during the ballroom heyday, their adherence to songcraft set them apart from their local peers. They eschewed soloing for careful arrangements, and indeed, the solos that do occasionally appear bear the stamp of honoring the underlying identity of the song, rather than any sort of flip-the-switch-and-out-pours-the-improv riffing. Forty-two of the set’s 108 songs are previously unissued, and this labor of love continues through the writing and design of the accompanying booklet. There are only 2,500 of these made, so if you already know the joys of this band, don’t delay, and if you’re not familiar, then don’t spend the rest of your life missing out.

—David Greenberger

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