Ever wondered what Tom Waits would sound like if he was from New Orleans? Well, if you didn’t, it doesn’t matter. Cause here it is.
Formed 25 years ago when Jimbo Mathus (a respected blues musician in his own right) met Katharine Whalen. Together, they collected a bunch of oddball and talented musicians to make their album “Hot” which went platinum in 1997. Ya, these motherfuckers sold a million copies of that shit back in the day. They also played the fucking Olympics in ’96, the inauguration of Bill Clinton (a disrespected blues musician in his own right), and toured with Neil Young. Everything was going smooth as silk. That is, until the band broke up in the early ’00s when Jimbo and Katharine divorced.
It’s a weird name, I know. But there’s a history to it. First off, Nut Zipper is a southern term for bootlegged moonshine. One day the band read a story in the paper about a guy who got drunk as fuck, climbed a tree, and wouldn’t get down. The headline read, “Squirrel Nut Zipper” and that, as they say, is that.
After the divorce, Katharine released the album “Katharine Whalen’s Jazz Squad” and Mathus released 18 solo albums and recorded a fuck ton of shit with the blues legend Buddy Guy. Eventually, they noticed that it was almost 20 years since their big release back in ’96. So they decided to tour again, just for kicks. They gathered the band and off they went. Thing is, they had so much fun doing it they wanted to make another album. And, voilà.
This album has a heavy influence of Tom Waits’ “The Black Rider”. There’s even an intro that almost exactly mirrors it. But, don’t be mistaken, this is not Tom. These guys love to play New Orleans inspired swing music. There are certain songs on the album I could do without (“West of Zanzibar” and “Rusty Trombone”) but outside of this the rest of the album is gorgeous. The amount of collected talent and work that goes into an album like this is beyond ridiculous. Obviously these guys had a lot of fun recording the album. Fuck, it wouldn’t have been made otherwise. And this is the album’s strength. Nobody wants to listen to a bored swing band. Their talents to create the ambiance of a nightmarish carnival is where they really shine. And, though it might be an odd thing to say for a band that went platinum, I’m really excited for where they will go next. If they dust off those couple cobwebs and play into their strengths, they could be un-fucking-believable. Shit, they may even go platinum.