The Radiators, Welcome to the Monkey House (Radz Records)

Sometimes the best things happen when you’re not even trying. The Radiators have labored for many years over their recordings trying to capture the strange alchemy that makes Fishhead music on tape. They’ve tried the DIY approach, expensive studios, big name producers and engineers, corporate A&R, live albums and even digital recordings using Pro Tools. Some great music has come out of it all, but nothing comes as close to capturing this band’s spirit as its latest recording, Welcome to the Monkey House.

Why? No real musical reasons, Svengali sessions or technical advances. …House is this good because nobody ever thought it would happen. When the band stopped touring they all went their separate ways, getting together for the occasional reunion gig in New Orleans. A new recording was out of the question—after all, they had “broken up.” Volker’s post-Radiators forays into small clubs included at different points but never altogether all of his bandmates in the Radiators. That is until last years’ Rattlers gig, with everybody except guitarist Camile Baudoin in the band. The show was massive, one of those shows that tape traders will treasure for generations. So good, in fact, that it convinced the band to go back into the studio with Camile and make a record. 16 songs went down in a couple of days in the comfortable environment of Jake Eckert’s uptown Rhythm Shack studio. Eckert and Suspects bandmate Jeff Watkins worked the board and helped with arrangements.

The band unearthed a bunch of fan favorites that for various reasons never made it onto previous albums and added a few new tunes into the mix. The title track is the kind of high-spirited invocation of the party that the band has always been so good at. Volker added “One Monkey” and guitarist Dave Malone contributed the show-stopping “16 Monkeys on a Seesaw” to complete the theme. The vocal interaction between Volker and Malone has never been better as they split leads and share choruses. “King Earl” is finally revealed in all its majesty. Likewise Malone and Baudoin ply their unique two-guitar sound to great effect on classic Rads crowd pleasers like “Run Red Run” and “Doubled Up In a Knot.” But the payoff is in how well the band plays as a unit—bassist Reggie Scanlan and drummer Frank Bua locking down the beat on “Ride Ride She Cried” and “Bring Me the Head of Issac Newton”; Volker adding colorations and carnival keyboard interludes on “Time to Rise and Shine,” “Back To Loveland,” “Nightbird,” “The Fountains of Neptune” and “First Snow.” It’s a classic New Orleans rock sound, and when they roar into “Fishhead Man,” “Make You Say Hot Dog” or the insanely catchy “I Got a Buzz On” there’s just no doubt that this band never sleeps on this city. I got a b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-buzz on for the Radiators, and it just won’t go away.

—John Swenson