Remember the '90s? That barbaric era when plaid was cool, a gallon of gas cost a dollar, and the economy surged to unprecedented levels? Homer Simpsons and Mel Gibson once discussed the turbulence of the time with Homer asking, "How did the country lose its way, Mel? When did we stop rooting for the man with a flame-thrower or an acid-spraying gun of some kind?" Mel responds, "I blame the Internet. And the return of swing music."
Swing music was indeed to blame, and for a few blissful years, the wildness of our grandparents' youths returned to popularity. And the king of swing songs was "Zoot Suit Riot" by the Cherry Poppin' Daddies. Unfortunately, those days had to come to an end to usher in our modern golden age of economic suspicion and seemingly endless global policing. The Daddies stepped back into their older suit of multi-genre music, leaving pure swing for touches on everything from rock, jazz, funk, hard rock, and, of course, ska.
In 2008, the Daddies are back with a new album, Susquehanna, from their label Space Age Bachelor Pad Records. The album has a Caribbean flavor to it, taking in genres such as flamenco and reggae to add to their regular repertoire of ska, punk, swing, and rock. It's an interesting turn, since the Big Band swing of generations long ago also evolved into a Caribbean track (remember Ricky from I Love Lucy? He was one of many). Perhaps history really does repeat itself.
Susquehanna takes shape as a concept album. The basis of each song comes from memories, tying them together in a narrative that conjures up both positive and negative images of the past. From lead singer Steve Perry's own description, "It’s a lot about memory, about time…. the Susquehanna is an ugly, muddy, flood prone river back east that I grew up on. The album is about losses and continuing on. It's about love, doubt and fatigue…. and ultimately about gratitude." The good is mixed with the bad, creating a feeling of nostalgia as well as excitement about times long past.
The album proves pleasurable listening, perhaps something to put on as good background music. With such variation in genres, each song taking leaps away from the last, some might consider it an amalgamation more than a coherent flow. On the other hand, with the influence of playlists these days, some might not even notice. In the end, I think it works, and it's good to hear from the Cherry Poppin' Daddies again.