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02/03/13

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Rattle Them Bones
Savoy

Like most genre revivals, the neo-swing craze of the ’90s was neither meant to last long nor to be taken very seriously. But although the bands that ushered in that revival—Big Bad Voodoo Daddy toward the top of the heap—were never embraced by the hardcore jazz audience, BBVD nevertheless introduced their fans, if by default, to music that did once define jazz, and the band has never wavered from that commitment. More than 20 years in, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, still led by vocalist, guitarist and chief songwriter Scotty Morris, does not sound appreciably different than they did at the start, which is a good thing: Rattle Them Bones accomplishes what it’s supposed to—it swings like mad, it feels good, it’s familiar. But that’s not all it does; the new set also serves as a compelling reminder that this is a collective of superior players, deserving of attention outside of the niche they helped spawn.

Following How Big Can You Get?, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s 2009 tribute to Cab Calloway, Rattle Them Bones is a show of strengths: The horns are crisp and rousing, the rhythm section boils, the soloists soar. One of the swingin’est tunes, the relentless “The Jitters,” a 1941 Tab Smith piece arranged here by pianist Joshua Levy, rides atop a wall of call-and-response horns that ultimately gives way to a concise, impeccably framed saxophone solo before the section steps back in to knock it home. But it’s often the less frenetic, less characteristic numbers that command the most consideration: a surprising cover of Randy Newman’s “It’s Lonely at the Top” lumbers at a languid pace some of the group’s most skilled dancers might find challenging, and “It Only Took a Kiss,” a Morris-penned ballad that features Meaghan Smith in a guest vocal duet with the author, is as cool as the jitterbug tunes are hot.

Originally published in January/February 2013
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