The Chicken Chasers
Beggars Can't Be Schmoozers
Don't let the name deter you — the St. Pete-based sextet may have taken their handle from notorious "chicken chaser" Chico Marx, but they're inspired by his high-spirited piano playing, not by his womanizing ways.
And there's no doubt Marx would be pleased by his influence on Beggars Can't Be Schmoozers, a debut LP of bewitching, vibrant numbers delivered in the Chicken Chasers' self-styled "schving" brand of swing and Klezmer, and infused with elements of nightclub blues, vintage rock, zesty tango and gypsy jazz.
The eclectic genre-crossing sonics are paired with hilariously irreverent commentary on modern living (war, internet dating, capitalism) by singer and concertina player Meyer "Little Squeeze" Baron. His brassy warm vocals hint at Sinatra, but carry a sardonic undertone, and he's just as likely to speak-sing as belt out his grin-inducing lyrics. (My favorite from "No Way to Meet a WiFi": "I'm just searching for a little romance / But before I even get a chance / I google in my pants." Nimble-fingered upright bassist Anne "Bette M" Van Atta offers cool grooves and deep vocal backup, two multi-instrumentalists bring whimsy and class — Dave "St. Peach" Cotton on soprano sax, clarinet, guitar and vox; Marlin Grando on keys, clarinet, trumpet and bass clarinet — and Andrew "Blinky" Mort rounds it out with shuffling or bounding rhythms. Overall, Beggars Can't Be Schmoozers is a fun, funny, high-quality first effort. Next show: January 20 at Ringside Café, St. Petersburg.
Tailgunner Joe & the Earls of Slander
The Money Game EP
With a screech of reverb and a few notes of distorted guitar, Tailgunner Joe kicks off the rabble-rousing money-and-fame-themed Money Game. "Shake Da Hive" sets the tone of the Tampa four-piece's second EP, their punchy garage rock marked by a tasty Southern-fried strut and snotty punk attitude complete with dual sneering vocals by brothers A.T. Moore (bass) and Cannon Lee (drums). "Fire on the Coast" has a nice slow sauntering breakdown, "Disengage" is the fast-paced stomper that closes Money Game, but it's the title track that serves as the album's standout. "Money Game" is a straightforward radio-ready rock number about musicians who leave their local scene behind and return too big for their britches, and the smooth flow of Tampa rapper P. Kumlawdi gives the track unexpected pop appeal. 1/2 Next show: Dual CD release with The Marksmen January 16 at Crowbar, Ybor City.
The Blue and the Grey
Fresh Tampa four-piece The Marksmen fuses hard roots and dark Southern rock in their inaugural recording, a solid 25-minute work marked by resounding rhythms and a vocalist whose wails are dosed heavily with raw longing. Singer-songwriter Geri X makes an appearance midway through for "Conformity Is Key," a pretty acoustic ballad with the ironic refrain, "You're too caught up inside of your idealistic mind / conformity is key / when love is what you seek / and you shall find, eventually, eventually." Next show: Dual CD release with Tailgunner Joe January 16 at Crowbar, Ybor City.
Back to the Beach
The third disc from Tampa Bay veterans The Semis, Back to the Beach, feels like a comeback record. Thing is, they never went away. (Full disclosure: This reviewer was a member of The Semis in 2002.)
Over the past decade, frontman Billy Summer gained a rep for being a user, abuser and all-around buffoon. However, Summer has been clean and sober for 11 months now, and in that time he wrote, recorded and produced the best work of his life.
Back to the Beach is a psychedelic surf rock masterpiece that was mixed and co-produced by Lemonjello Kane (Gravy, The Saturn 5), whom Summer credits as "the most talented fool on the album" and the only person thus far able to "translate the nuances" in Summer's head to tape.
The production is cleaner this time around; the solos take center stage when they need to and the vocals are relatively legible throughout. But the real difference here lies in the lyrics. Past songs have touched on Asian girls and cocaine; today's collection references shopping for records in St. Pete ("Private Dicks"), living on the beach and kicking the habit ("Popov") while reflecting a newfound sense of optimism: "Aren't we so full of life? / Do the sunrise with closed eyes ... Don't need no goddamn reason / I'm just so fond of life" (from "Pelican Song").
Back to the Beach is a concept record about addiction and recovery, and the beach is not only a backdrop but a motif that returns again and again as Summer travels the illuminated path to sobriety and eventual redemption. We get a taste of the early years ("I was hanging 10 instead of going to school / then I moved across from the bar"), meet an apprehensive partner in "Rock Ready" ("We'll float away out from the rest / on two foot waves that never crest"), and are offered a soul-baring glimpse at the road to recovery in the standout track, "Popov," an orchestral arrangement of synthesizers and distorted guitars.
Tracks like "New Surfboard" blend whimsy and soft-spoken psychedelia with the lushness of Beach Boys production, though the biggest payoffs are in the bombastic power-pop and metal-infused rockers like "Suck it Dry" and "Primitive Mind."
The record is softened by a couple of ballads, including "Speed," an introspective acoustic piece with the telling verse, "Listen to your heartbeat / listen to it speed / Think about the drugs pushed around / where they need to be." The production is down and dirty, recorded in sheds, warehouses and Summer's own living room, but skillful mixing allows the album's masterful arrangements and melodies to shine through. All the idiots that claimed his writing would never be the same "without the drugs" are absolutely correct. He's better than he's ever been. —Review by Joran Oppelt Next show: January 23 at I Love St. Pete, ArtPool, St. Petersburg.