When: Sat., Sept. 2, 9 p.m. 2017
If ever a musical outfit was itching for an excuse to have an all-out blowout, Ellis Dyson & the Shambles certainly fits the bill. The Chapel Hill sextet has plenty of reason to celebrate tonight. This homecoming fete concludes the end of a two-week East Coast tour while also serving as the hometown release show for Henhouse—the Shambles' second full-length record, released last month—and marking five years since the band's beginning as a banjo and saxophone duo. Breathing new life into a bygone era of party music, the dapper dudes splice horn-laden swing, ragtime, Dixieland, jump blues, and old-time influences into original, whiskey-fueled concoctions that are at once raucous, theatrical, and jocular.
Henhouse's wild opener, "Often Wrong, But Always Right," is an apt archetype of the group's unique style. Woozy trumpet and clarinet, rapid guitar runs, and hefty doses of jazz violin conjure late-night vaudeville vibes over a frenzied rhythm as Dyson tries to recall the events of an evening that left him broken down and busted. Making use of an obvious metaphor for the lovelorn narrator's romantic pursuits, lead single "Circlin' the Henhouse" similarly careens along to thumps of upright bass before a dramatic vocal breakdown that borders on doo-wop, while the final chorus of the considerably more relaxed "Broken Record" playfully imitates the locked groove of a skipping record.
As the breezy "Broken Record" attests, Henhouse isn't entirely conducted at breakneck speed. The Shambles shift gears to showcase their versatility throughout the album. As "Looking Low and Getting High" ambles along, the slinky, jazzy groove aptly underscores Dyson's lonesome lyrics. Closing ballad "Shaky Knees" is a sparse and plaintive ode in which the narrator pines for the dogwoods of Carolina after following his lover to a new home.
Katharine Whalen's Swedish Wood Patrol—the newest venture of the cofounding vocalist and multi-instrumentalist for the Squirrel Nut Zippers—enchants with even more horn-studded hybrids of jazz and folk, mixing sultry numbers suggestive of a smoky speakeasy with breezy, Tropicalia-tinged tunes that conjure a mid-century tiki bar. Also opening is Carrboro jazz quartet Yeaux Katz, a supergroup of sorts featuring Red Clay Ramblers multi-instrumentalist Chris Frank, fellow Rambler and rock drummer Rob Ladd, Ben Folds Five bassist Robert Sledge, and busy trombone sideman Danny Grewen. Prior to doors, Bulltown Strutters will provide a second-line soundtrack for a crew of stilt-walking and fire-breathing entertainers from Imagine Circus.—Spencer Griffith