CD Review of The Dicky Comstock Show by The Spring Heeled Jacks Original Swinging Jass Band
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Brian Wilson, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Ryan Adams
The Spring Heeled Jacks Original Swinging Jass Band:
The Dicky Comstock Show

Reviewed by Michael Fortes


emember how much fun the “Bob Hope Show” was? Remember sitting next to the old radio and eating up every word and sound that came out of the speaker when your favorite music and comedy program came on? No? Well damn, you’ve been missin’ out, you little whippersnapper! Why don’t you ask your grandpa ‘bout those days? Maybe he remembers ol’ Dicky Comstock, and that amazing night he had the Spring Heeled Jacks Original Swinging Jass Band as his musical guest. Maybe he even told you how confused he was to hear that this band isn’t really a “swinging jass band” at all, but rather a collective that dabbles in a bunch of different styles of popular music.

Actually, he probably won’t remember… either because a) he’s dead, b) he’s too young, or the more likely reason, c) it wasn’t until 2007 that this Comstock character made his presence known to the world at large. He’s kind of a grandfatherly Sergeant Pepper, the creation of principal Jacks Nathan Dunton and Josh Morrow, and his old-time charm serves as the glue that makes the songs of The Dicky Comstock Show stick together.

Actually, the theme of togetherness is woven throughout the songs, so even without the make-believe variety show bits and announcements at the beginning and end of the album, one can feel all warm and fuzzy just from the sentiments behind many of the songs. “I’ve Often Dreamed” goes for a straight-up barbershop vocal sound that effectively serves as an intro to the also-dreamy getaway notions of “Moving to New Zealand,” in which the lead voice assures his sweetheart that they’re soon off to a more hospitable locale. The togetherness bit gets downright cutesy on “Somewhere by the Road,” in which a lonely fishmonger gushes over his true love to a jazzy, finger-popping arrangement. Either smile- or gag-inducing, depending on whether the listener is a hopeless romantic, is the line “I can’t find any flowers / So I put weeds in your hair.” It doesn’t get much cuter than that!

Actually, it kind of does. The Jacks also play a little “commercial” from the show’s “sponsor,” that sponsor being “Ray’s Magic Foot Powder.” And, just like on those old-time variety shows, Comstock himself adds his two cents after the band concludes. “It’s changed my life, I gotta tell ya,” he says, and he sounds like he really means it. Where can I find some of this powder for my stinky feet?

A sort of Broadway-vaudeville kitsch informs the silly “Mr. and Mrs. Bones,” essentially making it the “When I’m Sixty-Four” of the album. Only, going one further, the missus is given a voice in one Leah Matthews, and the couple sing of their devotion to each other in their old age in spite of admittedly unlikely temptation. “Gravity ain’t got your tits,” Mr. Bones observes of a potentially necrophilic hook-up, but still he must refuse. And likewise, the missus is fighting “the urge to flirt” with muscular dudes… think too hard about it and the song is almost as gross as it is cute.

But that’s just the light-hearted balance to the heavier portions of the record, namely the stark, solo acoustic “Take Me Home” and the hypnotic, beautifully layered production that is “Stargazer.” The two are on opposite ends of the spectrum, production-wise, yet achieve equal weight in the area of emotional resonance. The latter channels the contemplative “’Til I Die” era of Brian Wilson’s artistry with its dreamy, multi-tracked strings and vocals, while the former finds Dunton gracefully aiming for and nailing the heart with a tale of longing tinged with hope. The image of a happy couple caught in the moment of a proposal at an airport by the water is one that could easily induce vomit, even for those who gush over such things. Fortunately, the song has just enough dark minor chords, and a simple enough chorus, to keep it far from sappy and heading towards perfection.

Yes, this music is old-fashioned at times, and yes, it can be sentimental – but artfully so. It’s music like this which makes it worthwhile to trawl through MySpace in search of something new. Check out The band's MySpace page and hear for yourself. What are you waiting for, whippersnapper?

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