Friday, December 23, 2005

Take the Knowledge

If forced to issue a decision on whether humor in music is a good thing, I’d probably have to rule against it, as a general principle. My immediate funny-music association is with Frank Zappa, Spike Jones and Weird Al, all of whom I like a little, but none of whom I want to listen to at length. Gag fatigue sets in. Maybe it's just easier to believe someone whose apparent motivation is to bring you into the psychic hole that they're in, to drag you down, to make you miserable, than it is someone who's working to elicit a laugh. (When I really think about it, I find some of my favorite music to be funny – Bob Dylan, Sun Ra, Raymond Scott, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Joanna Newsom, George Jones, James Brown, the Louvin Brothers and Biz Markie. I chuckle now and again when listening to all of them.)

But Swamp Dogg forces me to reconsider my hardline position. This shit is definitely funny. But he's got the un-P.C. cantankerousness of Merle Haggard. There's an apocalyptic Gil Scott Heron edge, too. And Swamp Dogg has a voice that sounds a little like Cher’s. This is absurdist southern soul (he's from Virginia). The Oxford American featured Swamp Dogg in one of the greatest of their usually very good music issues (2003, it included the definitive, if a little indulgent, meditation on My Morning Jacket by William Bowers and an excellent piece on Esther Phillips [who actually joins Swamp Dogg on one of the other tunes off of this record]). Granted, there's a whiff of beach music to "It's Just a Little Time Left." And after about minute two of the five-minute song, things do go down hill. The "Revely" vamp could be pared down at length. And, yes, that is a Clarence Clemons-esque horn solo you'll have to wade through. You may even suffer from visions of G. E. Smith. Still, I think you'll be glad. Swamp Dogg's gonna tackle race relations, drug abuse, bad baby formula, crime, the welfare state, nuclear waste, and El Salvador -- all before the poopy ending.

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