Acoustic Ladyland - Skinny Grin

V2  | ****

Pete Wareham (s, v), Tom Cawley (p, ky), Tom Herbert (b), Seb Rochford (d) with James Chance (s), Alice Grant and Anne Booty (v). Rec. 2006
Acoustic Ladyland - Skinny Grin
A wiser man than I has noted how Acoustic Ladyland appeal to the inner hooligan of the jazz fan. But if last year’s Last Chance Disco was a brick through the window of jazz pretension, this year’s act of premeditated violence is one of almost Weill-esque wicked intelligence: sly, funny, intoxicating, it sets your brain racing even as it kicks your feet from under you. Forget the big hair and skinny ties, behind the fad and fashion this is breathtaking music of cinemascopic size, shoehorned into murderously intense little structures that threaten to break and spill but (just) hold off the chaos.

The “big” change from Disco is the use of vocals – Wareham comes on like the bastard mutant son of Suggs and Anthony Newley – gnarly, desperate but annoyingly loveable (as on the climactic darkness of ‘Hitting Home’) – while the contrasting vox of Grant (switch blade cool, a toff in fishnets) and Booty, all slippery lascivious on the stand out ‘Cuts And Lies’ add a slick schtick Last Chance Disco aspired to but
rarely attained.

Amid the mayhem there’s also more piano from Cawley who gorgeously sets up the yawing, Zeppelin-esque dynamics of ‘Road Of Bones’ while his range of analogue keyboards provide colours and clusters of jewel-actioned detail that contrast Herbert’s walloping bass. Wareham himself has cashed in some of the bluff and bluster of his sax solos for reined in smoky themes and oily vamps that are the more effective for their chained-down restraint: but there’s also enough volcanic eruptions to bludgeon our finer sensibilities. There is a danger that Wareham’s desire to fill each unforgiving second with something strong over-eggs an already rich mixture, but the sheer headiness, the delirious pleasure the band takes in playing transcends such carping. Those fearing a “rock/pop sell out” (whatever that is) need fear not; those requiring the hair to stand up on the back of their neck need look no further.

Andy Robson