The Twenty 20s: Uh! Oh!

Dan McClenaghan By

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Are these people nuts? That could be the question when the title tune to the The Twenty 20's Uh! Oh! begins to spin. It sounds like surf guitar legend Dick Dale found a cheeky—but really good—girl singer influenced by Alvin and the Chipmunks, then recruited Phil Spector to produce—on a lower budget than the famed producer was used to. Throw in a couple of horns from the local Salvation Army Band and it becomes one of the more idiosyncratic recordings around. That's just the one song—a cover of 1959's Billboard-charting song by the Nutty Squirrels (Alvin and the Chipmunks' competing rodent-themed, animated recording artists of the late fifties/early sixties)—with the feel of a novelty hit taken on with an echoing, oddball panache. There's no tongue in vocalist Hetty Kate's cheek as she utters the chirpy two syllables of the tune's title inside the resonant grunge of Dale Lindrea's tenor guitar.

The distinctive, high volume, psychedelic surf guitar, played inside the tile walls of a large public restroom, persists throughout the entire set, and certainly wouldn't have worked, had it only been used sporadically. If you're going for weird, go all the way. But Buddy Holly's 1959 hit, "Raining in My Heart," is played a bit straighter, with Kate's vocal less distorted. The pace is relaxed; the tenor guitar glows like a piece of Homer Simpson's plutonium, before it slips into an island riff behind Vinnie Bourke's trumpet.

One of the set's highlights is Cy Coleman and Caroline Leigh's "I've Got Your Number," with Kate's straightforward vocal an odd but very appealing dichotomy of feline slinkiness and forthright guilelessness—a bold little girl on a romantically predatory prowl. And the band really swings. Allen Toussaint's "Workin' in a Coal Mine," turned into a 1966 top forty hit by Lee Dorsey, gets a rock treatment here, while Kate sounds jaded, dissolute and yearning for love on "Black Coffee," covered famously by Peggy Lee. Punk rockers The Buzzcocks' 1978 tune. "Ever Fallen in Love?," has a crunchy Neil Young guitar groove, and a fade out that leaves the title's question unanswered.

The Twenty 20s' bassist—and the disc's producer—Steve Purcell penned the closer, "Cellophane," which sounds like a modern classic wrapped in a reverberant glimmer, with Kate delivering its offbeat lyrics with fluid and sassy grace.

There's no same-old same-old with The Twenty 20s. Some risks were taken and a strange and exceptionally appealing sound is the result. And no, The Twenty 20s aren't nuts; they've got style.

Track Listing: Uh! Oh!; Raining in My Heart; Hymn for Him; Clouds; I've Got Your Number; Workin' in a Coalmine; Black Coffee; Ever Fallen in Love; Close Your Eyes; Cellophane.

Personnel: Hetty Kate: vocals; Dean Hilson: saxophones; Vinnie Bourke: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dale Lindrea: tenor guitar; Steve Purcell: bass; Sharky Ramos: drums; Hugh Harvey: drums (5, 7, 9); Steve Grant: trumpet (4).

Title: Uh! Oh! | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Self Produced


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