I met with The Phantom Playboys’ drummer “Jungle” Jim Kaylis earlier this week to pick up a copy of his band’s new album. Titled “Baby Likes Booze,” it’s the local rockabilly band’s first and was produced by Rick Miller of Southern Culture on the Skids (Miller plays guitar on two tracks). I reminded Kaylis of the band’s electrified show at the long since closed Hollister 47.
He paused a moment to think and then said with a smile, “Yeah, that was a good show.”
Driving away I realized that now there’s an album of Phantom Playboy songs, not just the buzz and sting of that live show a few years ago. And just as the band’s live set is a different beast than the studio recordings, the band from that Hollister 47 show is also different. Maaike Brender à Brandis joined The Phantom Playboys a while back, adding the thrust of tromboneto the already energetic mix (and also singing on songs).
The band has an album release show this Saturday, April 19, at Orton’s in downtown Wilmington.
Recorded over three days in Chapel Hill, N.C. at Miller’s Kudzu Ranch, “Baby Likes Booze” is a heap of fun, sounds very alive, and has a raw yet polished feel. It also delivers on the band’s sound while going in unexpected, fun ways. Beginning with a shotgun blast via “Wildcats Ways,” a song Carl Perkins would approve of, its replete with train-kept-a-rollin’ guitar playing and Eric Lawson’s on-the-run singing. Throughout the album Lawson displays engaging and personalized vocals, from spoken word style (“Devil’s Socks”) to hubba hubba delivery (“65 Caprice”). The singer works the material like a wolf on the prowl, fiery as if he was a reincarnated combo of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and The Cramps’ Lux Interior.
“Baby Likes Booze” runs the gamut of mood and intensity. Take the defiance of “Pretty Corpse” in which Lawson bellows, “I ain’t gonna leave a pretty corpse behind” as a call to arms to live a life worth living — and living wild. Or the creepiness of “The Stalker,” a stark number beginning with a numbing growl coming from deep below. It quickly turns on the Jim Thomspon charm about a fella (who likes to say “gee whiz”) watching a beauty that “won’t give him the eye.” It’s here that Lawson seems to channel the snarl of Lux Interior, baited by the song’s gritty guitar work from Jake “Hot Rod” Horton and Brender à Brandis’ thick alley steam horn playing.
But there are a few songs that really surprise. The band’s take on “Look at the Cadillac” is a real charmer. Imagine The Andrew Sisters’ singing with additional umph on The Stray Cats/Brian Setzer’s swinging tune from the early ’80s. Brender à Brandis’ singing is reserved yet cool, topped off with a little teeth ending a line with a cat’s growl. Kaylis’ drumming is delightful, reserved even, and the combo of steady percussion and high hat crash is great. Kaylis does it again with the rollicking instrumental “Psyclone.”
You can feel the band really having fun throughout “Baby Likes Booze,” from the swinging “Lover’s Rock” to the album’s title track. Musically “Baby Likes Booze” is akin to a cat on the prowl, hot and sneaky and ending with a classic joke finale. The song’s cadence moves between tempered and explosive because bassist Jones Smith and Kaylis get into a sultry groove with it, providing smoky room atmosphere. Lawson leads the song as narrator, as though watching across the room telling everyone about a woman, no, a devil doll, with a drink in each hand who “looks dangerous” and is “covered with tattoos.” It’s a carnivorous tune; one that should be a lot of fun performed live and will make for a devilish music video.
I listened to “Baby Likes Booze” in a variety of formats, car stereo, computer/mp3 and through a proper stereo system. I don’t know anything about technology but as a music fan I know this is an album meant to be played through anything but little speakers. Sure, it sounds great on an iPod and blasting through a car stereo but when played loud on a home stereo you really feel like you’re in the room with the band. Or more to the point, they’re in your square footage — Lawson’s leaning in close with the microphone, the crash of the band is all around you (Kaylis’ drumming hitting you back) and the horn playing popping up all over the place.
Now if the band would release a sizzling live set for public consumption …