It is apt that Tuba Skinny’s new release has the word “Rag” in it. The music here goes back beyond Dixieland to the early days of jazz when it was better known as “ragtime,” and those who played it called it “ragging” (or syncopating) the beat or song. It also indicated an informal, down-home take on the music. The seven member-strong Tuba Skinny collective definitely has that going for them. This is shake your booty with a cold-one in your hand music. Their take on rarely recorded songs such as the sly come-on “Papa’s Got Your Bath Water On” or Skip James’ cold-blooded murder ballad “Crow Jane” are poignant, yet fun. Occasionally, the beat wanders or not everyone is in tune, but the general energy and joy of the music makes the listener forget such anomalies. And kudos to Tuba Skinny for getting some of the great yet lesser-played songs of the New Orleans repertoire (particularly the Jelly Roll Morton tunes including “New Orleans Bump”) back into action.
Nobody needs to hear another version of “Muskrat Ramble” these days. The only problem with this recording is that sometimes it takes the informal too far. I like my music raw, but the audio quality of this disc sounds at times more like a field recording and less like a studio one. The music can always be heard, but sometimes the vocals are a little difficult to make out, and instruments that should be more prominent fall into the background. Again, that doesn’t take away from the overall feel of Rag Band. Put it on for your next party and see how low everybody can do the “New Orleans Bump.”