Only in New Orleans could an album featuring jazz guitar, washboard, and tuba—and those instruments only, save for an occasional short-order cook’s “order up!” bell—be most notable for its songwriting. And yet, that’s true; while the Tin Men’s ’03 debut, Super Great Music for Modern Lovers, showcased the talents of local mainstays Matt Perrine (tuba), Alex McMurray (guitar), and Washboard Chaz (guess) in reinterpreting and recontextualizing jug-band jazz, the newer, more focused, more streamlined Freaks For Industry serves as a stage for the continuing development of McMurray’s writing chops. “She will give her hair a toss / so as to hide that so so so so face,” he sings on “The Woman I Love,” and you’re not quite sure where his snottiness and his affection meet. Which is the point. I think.
To a lot of people, however, this is still a joke band, or maybe a curio of a forgotten time. And the Tin Men spend as much time reveling in the sheer rhythmic joy of standards like Fats Waller ‘s “Your Feets Too Big” and Cab Calloway’s “The Man From Harlem” (assisted by the Pfister Sisters) as they do ripping the wires out of slightly more modern standards like “I’m Gonna Be A Wheel Someday,” “Mess Around,” and “Immigrant Song.” (Yes. That one.) But McMurray’s originals take up most of the set this time, and that’s a very good thing, considering how he inverts the many meanings of “Baby” and crafts scenes like “Otis Convalesces” that are twice as sinister as their surfaces. Since this puts him right in line with the actual hepcat songwriting of the time, it’s a perfect fit—in fact, Alex may find himself backing up into Randy Newman territory soon if he keeps drawing these snide portraits using the colors of classic prewar Americana. Classic Newman, that is; you won’t hear the raunchy and somehow incomprehensible sea-chanty “The Ballad Of Cap’n Sandy” playing over the credits of Toy Story 3. (And if you do, give me some of that.)