A lot has changed since the Squirrel Nut Zippers last released a record: Women got the right to vote, a guy walked on the moon, Nixon lost that debate. Seriously, their "local" label skipped town, the guy who sang their biggest hit left to do his solo thing and, perhaps most significantly, all those swing-music kids jumped off the bandwagon and got really into Kazakhstani folk music.
Of course, those who actually listened to what the Zippers played (and said) knew all along that they never were a swing band. And they're still not. Whether you call it Southern music or hot music (they do) or just American roots music, the band has returned with an exciting new take on their trademark sound that manages to borrow from everything and still resemble nothing but the Zippers.
Yeah, some of the songs swing as a verb, but they also infuse elements of calypso and boogie-woogie. "Do What?" features a Stax/Muscle Shoals '60s soul vibe with a great vocal from Jimbo Mathus. "Stop Drop and Roll" has a ska bridge. And Katharine Whalen's jazzy ballads are as deliriously gorgeous as ever. Her elegant "Bent Out of Shape," strings-drenched "Hush" and bossa-nova "It All Depends" beautifully offset the rough-and-dirty blues numbers sung by Mathus.
Somewhat surprisingly, departed Tom Maxwell--author and singer of the band's breakthrough, "Hell"--is not missed. The beauty-and-beast aspect of Whalen and Mathus trading vocals works like a charm and, despite the absence of gifted writer Maxwell, this batch of songs may be the band's best to date.
Bedlam Ballroom is a sprawling, imaginative record that should once and for all leave the dreaded swing craze in the dust. But will all those reformed swing-dancers evolve with the Zippers and give this record a chance? Wait, don't answer that.