The California Feetwarmers “Gloryland” (Independent, 2019)

And, now for something completely different. Instead of travelling the usual dusty highways, we are going to take a sidestep, shimmy and jitterbug off the beaten track and into the world of the California Feetwarmers. Their toes may be tapping in Los Angeles but their hearts are beating in New Orleans. For these guys 1950 is somewhere in the future, and polishing your wing tips is as important as polishing your trombone. So adjust those braces (err,  suspenders), apply the pomade and dive into ‘Gloryland’, the Feetwarmers’ new 11 track album.
This is an album for those that like their music ‘trad’ – of the 11 tracks just two are new compositions, the rest do not supersede 1946, with 1906 being earliest and the twenties the locale of choice. Swing it certainly does and with a tight configuration of sousaphone, cornet, clarinet, banjo, trombone, guitar and drums you would expect nothing else (and yes you can occasionally throw in a washboard, string bass and harmonica too). These guys have developed a fearsome live reputation and it is not hard to image why – the music, style and image are perfectly suited to a live environment where spending an hour soaked in these tune is like an hour at one of Gatsby’s parties and the gossip is that Bernice is planning to bob her hair.

It’s stomping, playful and raucous stuff. When they were starting out the band would play in the streets of Santa Monica attracting the attention of passers-by with the simplest of philosophies, enjoy playing for people and “put some jazz in their ears” – a chance encounter must have been quite mesmerizing stuff. And perhaps the live encounter is needed. Keeping a focus on authenticity and simplicity the band are adamant that they don’t want to polish their sound into a big band, that would stretch their time frame too much into the 1940s! No, for the Feetwarmers this is forgotten music that needs to be heard just as it was then. And it does, which, I suspect undersells the excitement of the live encounter. If anyone experienced the sheer exuberance of The Bhundu Boys live in the 80’s but were slightly deflated by the studio albums you will know what I mean. Keb’ Mo’ recognised their impact when he got them to back him on ‘The Old Me Better’ from his ‘Blues-Americana’ album because he wanted a joyous party feel.

‘Gloryland’ may well be a bit of a diversion from your normal playlist (and if it isn’t I have no doubt you will love this). But for the rest of us, we need records like this as a welcome guided tour into experiences we should not so easily lose. It does take a few listens but the most immediate reference point ceases to be the theme for ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ – each time the rhythm section kicks in and great tunes line ‘No Vacancy’ stand up and exert their own personality. If you ever struggled to make sense of when Kerouac wrote about a (slightly later) jazz scene where ….. “they were singing in the halls, singing from their windows, just hell and be damned and look out”….this album might be as good a place as any to shine a light on the viscerality of some honking horns and slapping strings.

Period pieces, trad in delivery, high on energy

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