(Self-released, CD, LP)
“To inaccurately paraphrase Gregory Corso, we play music to seduce women and overthrow the capitalist system!” Such is the opening salvo, and de facto mission statement, of freewheeling “mad artists collective” Vermont Joy Parade. Or so emphatically states the introductory track to their debut album, Kicking Sawdust. A cousin of Burlington’s famed Spielpalast Cabaret, VJP present a similarly unwieldy and unhinged theatrical spectacle, albeit on a far less grandiose scale.
The curtain rises on a rousing rendition of Sam Theard’s hothouse classic “You Rascal You,” made famous by Django Reinhardt, Cab Calloway and a host of others. Captain Bennypants (aka Benjamin Strosberg), Duke Airplane (Galen Peria) and M. Blitzkrieg (Devin Robinson) take turns rendering the song’s ghoulish lyrics with increasing fervor. Meanwhile, a mad chorus of disembodied voices echoes each titular refrain.
The collection balances dusty traditionals, standards and originals penned by various members of the ensemble. Not including Robinson’s intro track, the first such number is Anna Pardenik’s “Baby, What You Doin’ to Me.” Pardenik (aka Fanny Ardeno) embodies VJP’s timeless aura, lustily crooning like a latter-day Dinah Washington while Ben Aleshire (Jowls Endwell) flits dizzily on the trumpet. The duo proves a powerful combination later on “Deep Well,” as a scatting Pardenik mimics Aleshire’s baleful, muted moans — or perhaps it’s the other way around?
Each of VJP’s songwriters brings something distinct to the ensemble. Strosberg’s “Ferrisburgh” is a loose and clever cautionary tale about, well, moving to Ferrisburgh. Peria takes a cheekily menacing turn on the cacophonous “Song of Myself.” The two combine forces on the boozy, late-night, spoken-word benediction, “Enter Henry James.”
But Pardenik’s material shines most brightly and most often, particularly on “Train Song,” which opens Side B (if you’re listening on vinyl). An easy shuffle courtesy of drummer Dan Fancher (Jiggs Endswell) propels Strosberg’s rolling banjo, as Aleshire’s airy bleats and Peria’s curling accordion trail behind in wispy plumes. All the while, Pardenik’s lilting intonations soothe the listener into a languid calm.
Still, Kicking Sawdust is a true ensemble piece. Each component, from guitars and accordions to the phalanx of kazoos and other odd and assorted noisemakers, plays a vital role in this wondrous carnival sideshow. Remarkably, Vermont Joy Parade have managed to distill that curious aesthetic into a genuinely compelling album that is as effective a companion to their wild-eyed performances as it is a cohesive, stand-alone collection.
Kicking off a brief regional tour in celebration of their debut album, Vermont Joy Parade march into Parima in Burlington this Tuesday. Visit vermontjoyparade.com for more info and tour dates.