Review

Every so often I have a physical reaction when experiencing great music for the first time. Basically, a song can literally give me chills the first time I hear it because it connects directly into my soul. Well, I was recently covered in joyful chills when I first heard Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s version of “Diga Diga Do” on their new CD, Rattle Them Bones. In fact, I responded viscerally to the entire CD.

Rattle Them Bones is a sassy, brash trip through Americana that began with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s singer and chief songwriter, Scotty Morris drawing from some unexpected cultural wells. “The goal with every album is to take the listener on a unique journey and the process this time involved choosing from my originals and a handful of covers we thought would fit the spirit of where the project seemed headed. Often as we start making sense of the material, the record tells us what it’s going to be, and it was clear this time that we weren’t going to be limited to a single decade or vibe. We feel like we left Cab (Calloway) and started thinking about Don Draper and Mark Twain and along the way some fascinating ideas emerged that turned Rattle Them Bones into a real celebration of the landscape of American music we love so much.”

That sweeping BBVD vision begins with “The Adventures Of…” a 35 second introduction that starts with the sound of an old film projector and transitions into a classic take on 20’s silent film music “We wanted the listener to know that they were in for something wild!” says Morris.

“Diga Diga Do” is the album’s first full-length track and is a wild journey through the speakeasies of prohibition America. “We wanted to take one of the most popular songs of its time and breathe new life to it.” And breath new life they did — Diga Diga Do is a roller coaster ride of 20’s imagery; big horns, jungle drums, and dancing flapper girls. Think “The Great Gatsby” meets “Boardwalk Empire” meets Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The song, written by McHugh and Fields for the all-black Broadway musical Blackbirds of 1928 has been covered over the years by contemporary bands and numerous jazz and big band legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, the Mills Brothers and Benny Goodman. Dare I say, however, that BBVD has grabbed a hold of “Diga Diga Do” and taken the song to another level. There is something amazing about the combination of Morris’ playful vocals and the band’s skillful orchestration that makes you want to jump up, dance and smile ’til your face hurts!

Speaking of smile inducing music, the CD includes easy swaying duet, “It Only Took A Kiss,” which features the beautiful voice of Canadian singer/songwriter Meaghan Smith. “The second I finished writing that tune I heard only her singing it!” says Morris. The song brings to mind vintage romance and invokes a wistful, happy reflection of everything that love is supposed to be – simple and sweet.

Listeners cannot help but smile, toe tap and likely dance along with many more songs included on the CD. There is the fiery song “The Jitters.” Morris sees the spirited tune as “A straight up, old school big band instrumental, like a 30’s horn section on steroids.” Also the CD includes rock and roll / swing hybrid “Let It Roll Again,” in which BBVD jumps ahead to the 40’s and early 50’s when big band and early R&B were making cozier bedfellows than we might remember. The band then dives into the dance—dance—dance of “She’s Always Right (I’m Never Wrong)” — a toe tapping jump blues that playfully reflects on the wordplay, misunderstandings, and conflict that can arise between lovers. BBVD even makes romance gone bad sound fun in “Why Me.”

Morris has a great anecdote for the whimsical banjo driven “Why Me?” “An artist from Florida created a poster for one of our shows illustrated in the style of the old black and white Disney cartoons. We all loved the artwork and thought it would be fun to do a song that would sound like those guys playing.” 

“Devil’s Dance (featuring a lyric that gives the album it’s title) is a bright and brassy number full of New Orleans flavor and lively call and response that was initially inspired by Morris’ reading of Mark Twain’s “Puddin’head Wilson,” the 1894 satirical novel about life on the Mississippi.

BBVD’s choice to cover Randy Newman’s mournful, sarcastically self loathing ballad, “It’s Lonely at the Top” is interesting in that the song, originally offered to Frank Sinatra, was turned down as Sinatra felt it portrayed him as too egotistical. “I love Randy Newman’s directness and the irony of this song felt like a perfect match for us. His take is more angry than ours – ours is a little more woe is me.” Ultimately it captures the idea that success is a double-edged sword.

Historically, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, co-founded by Morris and drummer Kurt Sodergren, made their debut in their hometown of Ventura, California in April of 1993 helping to usher in the swing revival founded on a colorful fusion of classic American sounds including jazz, swing, and dixieland mixed with the energy and spirit of contemporary culture. They proved to be among the standout groups that launched the new swing era in the 90’s. The group, whose core lineup has been in place since 1995, includes Scotty Morris (lead vocals and guitar), Kurt Sodergren (drums and percussion), Dirk Shumaker (double bass and vocals), Andy Rowley (baritone saxophone and vocals), Glen “The Kid” Marhevka (trumpet), Karl Hunter (saxophones and clarinet) and Joshua Levy (piano and arranger.) Joining them on the road are Anthony Bonsera Jr. (lead trumpet) and Alex Henderson (trombone.)

Although music by other composers have been featured on each of the band’s albums, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has always focused on original music, producing an impressively diverse songbook, while embracing the past and today’s times with current perspective and new stories to tell. The band’s originals rocketed the group into its first phase of stardom when “You & Me and the Bottle Makes Three (Tonight)” and “Go Daddy-O” were featured in the 1996 indie film landmark Swingers. The film launched the careers of Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau and established BBVD as a cultural force beyond their home base of L.A.

The band has built a career through relentless touring and an impressive discography that includes the platinum selling, Americana Deluxe and follow-ups This Beautiful Life, Save My Soul, and Everything You Want For Christmas. Their music has appeared in countless films, television shows, and trailers including Swingers, The Wild, Despicable Me, Family Guy, Phineas and Ferb, Malcolm In The Middle, Ally McBealas well as multiple uses of songs for dance routines on Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. The band’s songs have also been featured in multiple Olympic gymnastic and figure skating routines (including Carly Patterson’s 2004 gold medal win) and have been widely used for years as part of television broadcasts of high profile sporting events including the NFL, NBA, MLB, and PGA.

The band’s numerous television appearances include Dancing With The Stars, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O’Brian, Last Call with Carson Daley (the last of which the band wrote and recorded the show’s theme song.) The band has shown true bipartisanship having played private events for the three of the last four presidents as well as events at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions on multiple occasions.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy hit pop music superstardom with their appearance in front of millions during the halftime show of the 1999 Super Bowl, while their 2003 New Orleans inspired album, Save My Soul shifted focus to playing theaters, performing arts centers, and large outdoor venues to selling out shows at the Hollywood Bowl, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Lincoln Center, Chastain Park and Constitution Hall, to name just a few. The band often plays more than 150 shows a year and has appeared as special guests with many of the great American symphony orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, and U.S. Air Force Band.

As Big Bad Voodoo Daddy approaches their twenty-year anniversary, Rattle Them Bones clearly demonstrates that the nine-piece band is very much like a fine wine or spirit that gets better with age. “We’re far from finished making music,” claims Morris. “We have big plans for the next 20 years!”

For more information www.bbvd.com.

** Quotes and information included from BBVD press release for Rattle Them Bones.



About the Author

Linda Gabriele
Linda Gabriele
Editor, legal advocate, photographer, playwright, actor, director, freelance writer, adjunct professor, blah, blah, blah . . .