Peter Stampfel is one of those guys you always want to root for — who wouldn’t want to root for a guy who sings like a “chicken who’s just won the lottery?” (in the Spin Record Guide's deathless phrase). Nevertheless, I'm distressed to say that that his new record, credited to him and the “Ether Frolic Mob,” doesn't quite do it for me (especially since this is one of those rare times I hunted down the publicist for an item) (Gasp! Where are my principles?). The problem is the ad hoc nature of the recording. Stampfel always records “on the run,” but his records with Mark Bingham are much more thought out arrangement-wise, where this one just kind of chugs on anonymously. Compare his version of “Memphis Breakdown” to the original by the Memphis Jug Band: in the MJB’s version, the percussion is carefully timed, like a comedy routine. The arrangement here dispenses with that, concerning itself solely with getting from point A to to point B and then getting on with the next song (when a cell phone goes off at the end of “Jawbone” and everyone laughs, you figure one more take would mean a hundred dollars more of studio time). Also, the record is too damn communal for its own good: Stampfel the more-or-less-producer often buries Stampfel-the-singer in the mix, whereas on the Bingham records, he’s the star. Even Have Moicy!, supposedly the apotheosis of the hippie democracy on record, the respective lead singers shine on their own songs. In short, not the place to get to know him.
Worth anthologizing: “Drunken Banjo Waltz,” which gets by mostly on the lyric. Also, “I Will Survive,” which is almost as good as Gloria Gaynor — maybe even Dylan Thomas.