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Album Review: Red Hot Juba, 'Stir Crazy'

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Red Hot Juba, Stir Crazy
  • Red Hot Juba, Stir Crazy

(Self-released, CD, digital)

Back in 2008, local "cosmic Americana" outfit Red Hot Juba released their self-titled debut. Unassuming and underrated, the record served a tantalizing taste of what was then a promising new band. The quartet's trajectory since has done little to diminish that early excitement. The musicians have become stalwarts, gigging constantly all over the state and just as constantly honing their amiable, silky-smooth fusion of myriad styles. In fact, since that debut record dropped, the only way to hear the band has been live; Red Hot Juba have waited a decade to record a follow-up. Fortunately for Juba fans, Stir Crazy is worth the wait.

The record opens, appropriately enough, on "Teaser," penned by guitarist D. Davis. Built around a brisk country shuffle and some nifty chicken-pickin' guitar, the song is indeed a fine tease of the record's 12 tracks: vintage twang and swing cut with jazz chops, blues heart and a winking sense of humor.

Most of the tunes are originals, including the second cut, Eric Krull's "Mr. Responsibility," a bluesy little number colored by easy call-and-response harmonies. Davis' slinky "A Woman Waits" follows, simmering with laid-back hot-house charm colored by guest Jake Whitesell's mellow sax lines.

Red Hot Juba's players are prodigiously talented. By and large, they favor restraint, admirably sublimating individual glory for the good of a song. But in certain instances, such as the instrumental title track, they stretch out and indulge in spacey jams. Those who like their Americana heavy on the cosmic will no doubt enjoy. Even the jam-averse might appreciate the cut's numerous hairpin turns, where ripping solos augment the arrangement rather than overwhelm it.

"Turtle Dove" is the first of the record's two covers. Here, Red Hot Juba give the traditional song twangy treatment by way of Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. Later, the band offers its take on Gillian Welch and David Rawlings' "Miss Ohio." Welch purists might bristle at the bouncy arrangement, which saps some of the song's original gravitas. But it's a pleasant enough twist on a modern classic.

The band returns to form on Krull's harmony-laden "Lucious," which sounds something like a Mills Brothers tune filtered through the lens of a small jazz combo. The record's closing couplet, "Autumn Blues" and "Brush It Aside," conclude the record on a high note. The latter song, a swooning instrumental showcasing Davis' uniquely emotive style, is among the finest in the band's canon.

Stir Crazy is available at redhotjuba.com. Red Hot Juba play Saturday, November 24, at Zenbarn in Waterbury.

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