Living on the East Coast, I only knew about the Reynolds Brothers (that’s Ralf on washboard; John on National guitar; both sing; both are grnsdons of the legendary screen star ZaSu Pitts) through finding them on YouTube — a live session with singer Dawn Lambeth, trumpeter Marc Caparone, and plectrist Katie Cavera on her new triple, the string bass.
I was both amused and elated: they were very funny, often sweet, but they swung very hard without raising their volume.
Now, they have a new CD, and it’s is a corker. A pip. A honey. A dazzler. You find the appropriate adjective for “must-have.”
This CD features a beautifully-recorded, energetically hot quartet — with John taking most of the vocals, but with Ralf, Marc, and Katie having their own specialties. What does a quartet of trumpet, amplified National guitar, string bass, and washboard sound like?
Listen (you can watch, too!): here are two performances by this very group recorded at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood, California, on January 13, 2010 (courtesy of Katie Cavera’s YouTube channel, “kcavera”).
Let’s start with a brief incendiary exercise, FUTURISTIC JUNGLEISM:
And here’s something more tender (the Boswell Sisters did a lovely version of it), WAS THAT THE HUMAN THING TO DO?:
This band harks back to an almost-forgotten series of recordings by one of the great Hot organizations of the early Thirties, the Washboard Rhythm Kings. If you didn’t have money for a trap set (and who did, during the Depression?) you could outfit what was then a common item, a laundry washboard, with a cymbal, a cowbell, perhaps other percussive side-dishes, find some thimbles, and wail away. A great washboard player (ask Doug Pomeroy about this art: he knows) would not only be an adequate replacement for a swinging drummer with a full kit, but could outswing one. Those recordings — sometimes at slow and medium tempos — had a wonderful momentum, and the really Hot numbers are astounding. Famous names played with those bands — trumpeter Taft Jordan, pianist Clarence Profit, and singer Leo Watson among them.
Now the washboard is usually relegated to truly traditional “trad” bands: in Ralf’s hands, it’s a full percussion orchestra, and he is a pleasure to watch . . . his hands swooping and diving in mid-air. John is an engaging singer, gentle and sly — approaching music and lyrics with great casual-sounding skill. His solos make melodic sense; his rhythm playing is a model of the art. Katie is a fine propulsive bassist — bringing the same accuracy to this instrument that she has brought to all her banjos and guitars. And she is a very sweet (but never sugary) singer: you believe her! Marc Caparone, I submit, has never sounded so electrifying as he does on this CD and these clips. I thought of what the National Forest Service calls “a controlled burn” — an intensely Hot fire that is, however, always precisely focused on its musical objectives. And the band is more than a collection of individualists: they rock, joyously, together.
The best way to but the CD is through the brothers’ site — (http://reynoldsbrothers.net/recordings.html) but those who prefer to use credit cards can order through CDBaby: http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/ReynoldsBrothers. And if you’re sufficiently captivated, this quartet is “accepting engagements,” as the saying goes. I am sure that the Brothers could add to this band to suit anyone’s desires.
If you would like to hear more while you are waiting for your mail carrier to deliver the CD, Katie has posted a few more clips from this concert (as well as her own expert and witty short films).