Written by Fantasma el Rey
Squirrel Nut Zippers return with Lost At Sea, their first release since 2002’s best-of collection. Recorded live in Brooklyn, NY, on December 5th 2008, this is the Zippers’ first live album and contains seventeen tracks that span their clever career.
Going back to 1994, the Zippers have had a sound that is hard to classify, which is a good thing. Bringing together all the elements of 1930s music at its best (jazz, swing, jug band, country, and jump blues), the band blends them together well and creates a signature sound, living hot jazz with Harlem Renaissance-influence. With sizzling guitar, rolling thunder drums, at times aggressive vocals, and a dark sense of humor, the band truly cuts their own notch and stands above some others that got caught in the swing revival of the mid 1990s.
Lost At Sea finds key members of the Zippers, Jimbo Mathus (vocals, guitar, trombone) and Katharine Whalen (vocals, banjo) back in full force. They had put the band aside for a while to pursue solo work and new paths in life. The once-married founding members are now back to cooking and set to burn down more concert halls.
The album is a best-of collection with a live vibe, playing the hits while reaching back through all their albums. From ‘95s The Inevitable we get the rollicking fun of “Good Enough For Grandad” and the seductive “Danny Diamond.”
The majority of the 17 tunes hail from the band’s breakout album Hot. The seven slices of squirrel nuttiness include the big horns and rockin’ late night juke guitar of “Memphis Exorcism,” the hip-shaking “Prince Nez,” the toe-tapping ditty “Bad Businessman” and the sensual Whalen-sung numbers “It Ain’t You” and “Blue Angel.” Of course Lost At Sea wouldn’t be complete with out the punchy “Put A Lid On It” or the demon-driven hit song “Hell.”
Hot’s follow-up, Perennial Favorites, brings the jumpy, social satyr, jazz fun of “Fat Cat Keeps Getting Fatter” and “Suits Are Picking Up The Bill” along with the gypsy-flavored “My Drag.” The standout “Ghost Of Stephen Foster” is an eerie, fast-paced race with a ghostly chorus, spooky clarinet, crashing cymbals, and frenzied horns.
Rounding out Lost At Sea are two tracks from Bedlam Ballroom, the funky, soulful, Texas-guitar romp “Do What” and the Mardi Gras party “Missing Link Parade,” although we are only given an exciting sample on the latter.
Going all the way back to their earliest days, they bring us the quiet “You Are My Radio” with just a guitar and male/female duet. An amusing gem is the country-tinged “Happens All The Time,” which I can’t find on any of the band’s recordings and may be a hint of their rumored forthcoming studio album.
Flooded with the fun and frolic that made them the “hottest band in the hall,” the band is back in top form, ready to re-launch with hard-charging guitars, drums, horns, Mathus’ strong voice and Whalen’s Billie Holiday-inspired vocals. You’ll dance, you’ll sing, you’ll love being Lost At Sea with the Squirrel Nut Zippers.