In Black ’n’ Red
Everything about the Urban Voodoo Machine is unusual. The nine-strong line-up, for instance, includes no bass drum, but two floor toms, each with its own percussionist, as well as accordion, banjolele and washboard. But the most surprising trait of the band is that their seemingly impossible mix of genres – combining punk and rockabilly with tango, skiffle, Balkan folk and more – actually works. In Black ’n’ Red, their second album, aptly fashions their long checklist of styles into a cohesive stomping playlist of maniacal energy.
Guitarist Paul-Ronney Angel fronts the small army with gravely guttural growls of inebriated rock ’n’ roll excess, lending extra swagger to saloon romps like the 12-bar-blues Good for You? or piano boogie Cheers for the Tears. On quieter cuts, like the Waitsian lounge jazz of Lightning from a Blues Sky, though, the Norwegian bawler demonstrates a wider range, resembling Mike Ness or even, with the softly crooning of wistful ballad Alone in the City, David Lee Roth.
Produced by The Future Shape of Sound vocalist Alex McGowan, In Black ’n’ Red showcases the clever arrangements that give the band’s predominantly vintage-inspired sound its distinctively fresh slant. On most tracks, especially the heavier ones, the guitars function as rhythm instruments, with the trumpet assuming the lead in straightforward riffs tailored for dancing. In single High Jeopardy Thing, another lounge jazz that escalates into tongue-in-cheek Broadway accents, Dr Lloyd Gomez de Ville sets a cinematic cocktail bar atmosphere by blowing his horn in a colourful call-and-response style.
Angel’s lyrics are a studied collage of blues-rock folklore, with quotations and allusions to classics by Howlin’ Wolf, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Bob Dylan. Late-night heartache, cocky defiance and substance abuse make their usual youthful rounds, with the odd reference to London areas.
In Black ’n’ Red also features cameos from a constellation of collaborators cultivated over eight years on the road, not only in London and the UK (often headlining Angel’s edgy ‘rock ’n’ roll cabaret’ revue Gypsy Hotel), but also touring internationally with the likes of The Pogues and Goran Bregovic. Guests include Jim Jones (Jim Jones Revue) on harmonica, Sami Yaffa (The New York Dolls) on bass guitar and burlesque dancer Lady Ane Angel (Paul-Ronney’s better half) on tuba.
It’s remarkable how clearly the riotous vigour of Urban Voodoo Machine gigs translate into their recordings. The band’s rich grooves weave a moving theatricality, especially evocative in the Baltic mandolin-and-brass textures of Goodbye to Another Year. By the same token, cautionary lament Heroin (Put My Brothers in the Ground) starts as a melancholic piano interlude, then evolves into a rousing slow-handclap wailing march.
In Black ’n’ Red is a multi-ethnic carnival of grinding rhythms and sing-along elation. Whether you like to dance, jump or shout, this is not just an album to listen to, but to indulge in.
In Black ’n’ Red by Urban Voodoo Machine. Gypsy Hotel Records, 2011. £9.99 from www.hmv.com
Photos bySin Bozkurt