Squirrel Nut Zippers: Beasts of Burgundy
Eighteen years is a long—really long—gap between studio albums. The last time Squirrel Nut Zippers made one (there was a live release in between), Bill Clinton was still president and the so-called swing revival to which their wagon had been hitched was still hanging on for dear life. To be fair, SNZ never should have been lumped in with that half-baked movement: Theirs was, and remains, more of a polyglot music, a cauldron of this, that and the other. There is, of course, jazz of various stripes (mainly pre-WWII varieties) on this deliciously wide-ranging comeback, but there’s so much more: sounds, identifiable and not, emanating from mysterious times and places, not the least of which is New Orleans, their home base, a land that, forever and still, has a mind of its own. You don’t have to go beyond the first full track, “Karnival Joe (From Kokomo),” to understand that any attempt to nail this crew down is only going to bring serious frustration. It’s psychedelic klezmer that you can dance the Charleston to, yet it is also nothing of the sort. Then there are the two parts of “Something Wicked,” the second preceding the first—a couple of spooky, creepy, multi-layered, otherworldly dirges that get into your skin and make it want to scream for mercy. “West of Zanzibar” is boisterous, shambolic and loaded up with all sorts of percussion, horns, voices and stuff you’re not going to recognize, so don’t even bother, and then there’s a bunch more tunes where those came from. Beasts of Burgundy (the title track is gritty enough to freak out Tom Waits) sort of picks up where the Squirrel Nut Zippers left off. Or maybe it’s not even close.