CD Review of Susquehanna by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies
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Cherry Poppin’ Daddies:

Reviewed by Michael Fortes


ith a juvenile band name and its greatest claim to fame a hit single that capitalized on the short-lived ‘90s swing revival, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies are ripe for a “where are they now?” check-in. As it turns out, they’re still alive and kicking. As it also turns out, any out-of-touch fair-weather fans who thought the Daddies were just another swing revival band might find their latest, Susquehanna, a bit bewildering.

Actually, this assessment could apply to any of their albums that aren’t titled Zoot Suit Riot. That album was a compilation of their swing tracks from their inception up through 1997, with the title track serving as the big selling point. It was as inescapable in ’97 as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s “You and Me and the Bottle Makes Three,” but it only told a small part of the story. Which is just as well. There were more focused swing bands around then (i.e. Squirrel Nut Zippers), and as that fad died, it would take more than finger-snappin’ horn charts to survive.

And whaddya know, there’s very little swing on the Daddies’ latest album. “Wingtips” is the token nod to the “Zoot Suit” audience, and it’s easily the most effortless sounding tune on the whole disc. The stronger musical strands of the album tend to be flamenco and ska, while a bit of rockabilly pops up in “The Mongoose and the Snake,” and “Breathe” dips into a bit of bossa nova. There’s even a syrupy ‘70s style folk pop number, “The Good Things,” coming from that unholy place where lead Daddy Steve Perry (no, not that Steve Perry) channels a musical threesome between Neil Diamond, Gordon Lightfoot and Burt Bacharach. 

The music here is all over the map, which makes for a wildly disjointed listen. The idea may be to open up and absorb the influences of the world and reflect them out, as we move ever faster towards a global economy and culture, and to a point, the Daddies have indeed absorbed an impressive array of world sounds and processed them with their own voice. But when all is said and done, two strong songs really stand tall here: the aforementioned tribute to ‘70s AM radio, and the opening track, “Bust Out.” As a pop tune, the latter is expertly constructed, and as a synthesis of the band’s varied influences – flamenco, rockabilly, reggae and ska – it’s a great success. Fun chorus, danceable beat, it even tells a story – more to love! The Spanish version (“Arráncate”) slapped on to the end of the album not only serves as neat little cross-cultural exercise, it’s also rather telling – even the band knows “Bust Out” has hit potential. It’s doubtful that it can eclipse “Zoot Suit Riot,” but it should at least make for a lively addition to the Daddies’ stage show.

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