Step forward good sir/madam and be delivered from the woes of daily life, with a sip of Doctor Schwamp's brand new Cure-All Tonic! They've nailed the travelling medicine-man cliché and it's a great image for a band. Decked in gentlemen's garb fresh from the 1860s, Doctor Schwamp look slick as snake oil! The question is, have they got the musical side of things down too? Let's look at the debut album Tunes, Tall Tales & Tinctures.
Doctor Schwamp fronted by the Doc himself, are one of those new bands who play with fire musically. They seem to jive from jazz to heavy blues rock and then onto funky ska-punk. Variety is the spice of life eh Doc? I've seen some live footage of Doctor Schwamp playing tracks from their new release on stage, and they look like great fun it has to be said. Tunes, Tall Tales & Tinctures is also a whole heap of listening excitement, although there are a few things I need to be picky about…
Bagpipes. The rule of thumb is that they only sound good when belting out 'Scotland The Brave'. Some people might say they never sound good but I reckon that's not true. In Tunes, Tall Tales & Tinctures however, I have to say the bagpipes are a bit of a misfit. Fair play for trying to add an edge to the swamp-style jazz-rock of 'Kinda Blew', but It just doesn't work here I'm afraid.
The other issue from an album point of view is the lead vocals. I like to sing along in the car, but the Doctor's voice is almost like a concoction of Louis Armstrong and Kane from WWE. It's an odd one because his voice really suits the overall tone of the album, but I can't see myself coming back to this album over and over, purely as it's scores low-singability on the vocal scales. That said it is the kind of bizarre vocal style that would draw in crowds at a festival, and keep the good times going because of that unique growl. The album is interspersed with sales pitches from the Doc, which are pretty spot-on and help establish their image as a band of slippery characters.
This overarching and amusing theme serves Tunes, Tall Tales & Tinctures well, as it enables the band to hark back to some uncommon styles of music - such as a bit of gypsy swing in "The Box". Being an album with improbable melodic surprises, don't be surprised to hear a distorted violin solo before some clean and subtle rhythm guitar. From start to finish you can expect excitement from the rollercoaster ride of styles abundant in every track. There really is a bit of everything in there from dirty distorted blues guitar, to New Orleans-esque brass fills.
"Bonny and Clyde (A Love Story)" is without a doubt my favourite track from Tunes, Tall Tales & Tinctures. It strides away from the salesman gimmick that permeates the majority of album and exhibits the raw musical talent of Doctor Schwamp. Fiery folk fiddle solos coupled with a driving southern bass line, and soulful backing vocals make this a standout song for Doctor Schwamp. Played live this would be the tune to get the biggest crowd reaction, as it is chock-full of passion.
Tunes, Tall Tales & Tinctures played live would seem at home on a stage at Coney Island funfair! It oozes debauchery and taboo, and I love that. The whole setup seems to be focussed on the Doctor's voice though, which is great as the lyrics are a throwback to that era of sleazy conmen and ladies of the night. Doctor Schwamp's sound might benefit from a little less vocal and more attention on the party music behind the band's unique image.
Tunes, Tall Tales & Tinctures is a fun album. It does what it says on the tine, unlike the conman… I mean doctor's prescription. Musically this release is of such a high quality in terms of arrangement and all the flourish that comes with it's performance. I still maintain that it would be more fun to see these songs performed in their raw live format, than on CD. That said I've thoroughly enjoyed the album and will be giving it a bit more time in the car to see if the Doctor can convince me 100%! Will you invest in Doctor Schwamp's brand new Cure All Tonic?
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