The Dustbowl Revival is at the forefront of yet another pre-rock ‘n’ roll revival, and don’t mistake this for a fad. Sure, everyone remembers the “Swing revival” of the late ’90s with Squirrel Nut Zippers and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy leading the charge (while Brian Setzer Orchestra cashed the checks). The bands got hot and then got dumped into used CD bins. But, the thing is, there are always going to be artists taken with the sounds and styles of pre-World War II music, an era with pockets no less musically rebellious than our own subcultures, an era of racial and stylistic mingling, and of costumes no less gaudy than those of any glam-era apologist.
Taking inspiration from Louis Armstrong‘s Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, Fats Waller, and, even, Bob Dylan and the Band’s The Basement Tapes, the Dustbowl Revival were named “Best Live Band” by L.A. Weekly in 2013 and are poised to win a national audience with their fourth album With a Lampshade On.
You may have seen them on your Facebook feed or as Huffington Post clickbait a few weeks back (time, and our collective attention span, does fly) when their video for “Never Had to Go”, featuring Dick Van Dyke and his wife, makeup stylist Arlene Silver, went viral. The Van Dykes were so taken with the band’s music after seeing them open for the Preservation Jazz Hall Band that they invited them into their home to record the video for With a Lampshade On’s first single. “Never Had to Go” is as infectious as Mr. Van Dyke’s fleet footed moves in the video, which has been viewed over two million times on YouTube, and the album’s other 13 cuts, mostly recorded live at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco and the Troubadour in Los Angeles, comprise an upbeat and stylistically diverse collection performed by a collective at the top of its game.
These revivalists are masters at melding diverse genres and time periods into a danceable stew. One travels from the moors to the bayou to the Blue Ridge in the space of three minutes during their dervish-like performance of “Old Joe Clark”. Follow up “Feels Good” opens with a riff straight out of Velvet Underground’s Loaded before sweeping horns introduce vocalist Liz Beebe’s sassy and commanding vocals. “Hey Baby” features powerhouse horns and call-and-response singing straight out of a Chicago blues house party. “Standing Next to Me” shuffles along with a doo-wop inspired R&B vibe.
The band consists of founder Zach Lupetin on guitar and vocals, Beebe on vocals and washboard, Daniel Mark on mandolin, Connor Vance on fiddle, Matt Rubin and Ulf Bjorlin on trumpet and trombone, James Klopfleisch on bass, and Joshlyn Heffernan on drums. With a Lampshade On gives each member a moment in the spotlight, be it Heffernan’s extended solo on “Ain’t My Fault”, Rubin’s French-cabaret inflected trumpet playing on “Bright Lights”, or Vance’s fiddle reel that opens “Cherokee Shuffle”. Lupetin and Beebe trade off on vocals throughout, each proving an expressive singer. Lupetin’s strong voice is cloaked in bayou brassiness while in Beebe they have a vocalist capable of bluesy sass, chatterbox nightclub swagger, and jazz-chanteuse sweetness. But it’s as a collective that they triumph, playing it loose but tight, the best way to win over a crowd, and they do. Album closer “Whiskey in the Well” is a tour-de-force of a band playing at full-speed, without-a-net joy.
Summer is the perfect time for this upbeat and foot-stomping album’s release. Dim the lights, put the drinks on ice, and press play: with With a Lampshade On, the Dustbowl Revival promises to be the life of the party.