The Ditty Bops
The Ditty Bops
Warner
2004
B+



amanda Barrett and Abby DeWald channel their music from a 1920’s dance hall. With bell-clear vocal harmonies, finger picked banjos and honky-tonk pianos, they might as well have echoed through your grandmother’s Victrola. But The Ditty Bops are a thoroughly modern throwback, two LA twenty-somethings celebrating yesteryear with a major label self-titled debut.

Though their voices recall the upbeat innocence of war-time sensations The Andrews Sisters, this isn’t just a comely female singing duo. These sirens play their own instruments and wrote all the songs on the record—except for their cover of “Sister Kate.” The group also confesses to past obsessions with ragtime and current obsessions with Nellie McKay, and the Dresden Dolls. Come to think of it, they’d probably fit nicely on a tour with either.

Perhaps an ode to their artistic roots, a Ditty Bops performance is as much a visual spectacle as a sonic recital. Fond of spontaneous sidewalk dramatics, they also delight in the meticulous planning of their scheduled concerts. They make sure no two shows are alike by regularly changing themes, costumes, and set designs. They might perform in full mime makeup, dressed as bride and groom, or suited up in shirts, vests and ties like half of a barbershop quartet. In the great tradition of vaudeville and cabaret, it’s clear that the Ditty Bops’ motto is let me entertain you.

The sound of their album was also carefully staged. Producer Mitchell Froom (The Corrs, Elvis Costello) has eschewed the period-piece lo-fi production you might expect from artists influenced by a bygone era, opting for clean, clear sounds to showcase the duo’s chiming vocals. No atmospheric simulations of A.M. radio static or vinyl record hiss here. A lineup of virtuosic side players completes the songs with trombone, fiddle, banjo, ukelele, ragtime piano, and upright bass.

Although there is a consistency from song to song, there are gaps in the nostalgia, and twists on the standard fare. “Breeze Black Night” breaks down to a psychedelic waltz, the carnivalesque “Unfortunate Few” culminates in an eerie march and the vocals on “Short Stack” sound like Chan Marshall commandeered the microphone. The sunny swing of “There’s a Girl” even veers into pop-rock territory. It’s best not to dig too deep into the lyrics, however. They range from droll (“piss is the color of tears”) to opaque (“these fruited images are delicacies”). “Wake Up” is a list of clichéd admonitions including “the early bird gets the worm” and “strike while the iron’s hot.” The words work best as a means to an end, leaving the melodies and lilting harmonies for your foremost enjoyment.

All that being said, this record is still pure enjoyment. Standout tracks like “Ooh La La” will make you want to jump up, clap your hands, and stomp your feet. You could find yourself strutting in a mid-tempo Charleston or a taking a stab at the 23 skidoo. One way or another, the Ditty Bops will have you partying like it’s 1929.



Reviewed by: Krissy Teegerstrom
Reviewed on: 2005-01-27
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