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Tom Maxwell: Samsara

In August of last year, Tom Maxwell, the high-coiffed co-leader of North Carolina’s swing revivalists the Squirrel Nut Zippers, decided to part ways with the band for “various reasons,” one of which being the utter dismay he felt from the Zips’ ever-looming novelty-act status. But another reason, as his solo debut disc Samsara certainly proves, is that Maxwell is a twisted musical fiend, an utterly enigmatic performer who’s just as comfortable playing swing as he is cranking out calypso, country and, uh, Chinese opera? Recorded at Kingsway Studios in New Orleans, Samsara-a Buddhist term for the infinite cycle of desire and dissatisfaction-is beautifully disjointed, with Maxwell, who not only sings but plays guitar, clarinet, sax and percussion as well, leading an ever-changing lineup of musicians through a grab-bag of diverse musical genres: “Sixes and Sevens to Me” and “The Uptown Stomp” are hot, sweaty jazz tracks; “Roll Them Bones” and “Don’t Give Me the Runaround” are straight-shot blues; and “Flame in My Heart,” on which Maxwell duets with wife Melanie, is a cruel country weeper. And then there’s the strangely beautiful “Some Born Singing,” the likes of which I haven’t heard since my old days stealing egg rolls at the Hong & Kong. Did someone say Chinese opera revival? You just never know.

Originally Published