14 June 2013


Readers asked me to re-publish what I wrote in 2014 about Tuba Skinny's CD - Owl Call Blues - which was released at the end of August that year.
I would much prefer that you all listen to it and buy it! Go to their website: CLICK HERE  and follow the instructions.

The band's friend (and occasional guitarist) Max Bien-Khan recorded the music with his equipment over several days in one of the New Orleans houses in which Tuba Skinny musicians live. The resulting acoustic is of a very high quality.

Here's what the CD contains:

1. Crazy 'Bout You: a standard Tuba Skinny performance of the pleasant, simple 16-bar tune, with singing by Erika and good ensemble work. I enjoyed Shaye's cheeky Ab on the very last note played - turning the final chord into Bb7th!

2. Rosa Lee Blues: vocal by Greg (abetted by Erika) in this 12-bar blues, which is slightly unusual in having an eight-to-the-bar rhythm and being played in the key of G.

3. Cannonball Blues: An amazing key-changing 12-bar blues with a terrific head arrangement. I love the moment when Shaye shakes her cornet though about 12 notes in half a second while changing the key from Eb to Ab! And it's clever how they slide down to the Key of C for Todd's tuba chorus before sliding up again to Ab.

4. Got a Mind To Ramble: One of those Erika vocals that we all love. Essentially a simple 8-bar theme in Bb - just the sort of material out of which nobody can make more than Erika and Tuba Skinny do.

5. Short-Dress Gal: Many of us know and love the 1927 original by the Sam Morgan Band. Tuba Skinny recreate it with their usual skill and Barnabus does a great job on the trombone, in the style of Big Jim Robinson on the Sam Morgan recording.

6. Owl Call Blues: I think for many of us this haunting song alone is worth the price of the CD. Shaye and Erika composed it; and here the band performs it lyrically for us. I have written before about Owl Call Blues   HERE .

7. Too Tight: The bouncy 16-bar blues highlights the strings and also Todd on the tuba.

8. Oriental Strut: Johnny St. Cyr's complex multi-part 1926 composition is very well executed, with a typical Tuba Skinny arrangement including some tricky breaks and rhythmic effects.

9. Ambulance Man: This 1930 Hattie Hart song is a duet with a story to tell. There is very good ensemble support. Basically a 12-bar Chorus in Bb but with a preceding Verse. (Don't like to say this but maybe it starts just a shade too slowly. It picks up later. Perhaps the slow start is deliberate - for dramatic effect.)

10. How Do They Do It That Way?: This Victoria Spivey song from 1929 is a favourite with the band and their followers. There are plenty of videos of them performing it. And I believe it's the only number they have recorded twice for CDs: it was also on their Garbage Man CD. So we are in familiar territory, though with a new arrangement. On this occasion they have chosen to play one Chorus in Eb and then one in Bb (Erika's preferred key) before Erika's vocal solo. But they return to Eb for a remarkable final Chorus, displaying Shaye's talents as she plays almost the entire Chorus solo, against stop chords.

11. Dallas Rag: This tune (devised and recorded by The Dallas String Band in 1927) has settled into Tuba Skinny's repertoire and I have written about it before ( CLICK HERE TO READ ). Although it's based on a simple chord sequence, given its liveliness and the use of breaks, it is a great fun number. Good work all round. Fans of Robin will enjoy hearing him strut his stuff.

12. Untrue Blues: Another 8-bar theme bouncily played and well sung by Erika. You'll enjoy hearing Shaye playing the fiddle here. Like Rosa Lee Blues (above) it's played in G.

13. Somebody's Been Lovin' My Baby: One of those sad tales that suits Erika's voice very well. A 32-bar song. Sounds like another example of a key that is hardly ever ventured into by other traditional jazz bands - A minor.

14. Willie the Weeper: Jazz bands have been playing this one since 1920. Tuba Skinny give a lusty creative performance, almost entirely with full ensemble and preferring the keys of G minor and Bb to those used by many bands - D minor and F. (By the way, Robin has said this is his favourite track on the CD).

15. Travellin' Blues:  A standard 12-bar, with Shaye on fiddle and Greg providing the vocal - again abetted by Erika.