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Pete Krebs and the Kung Pao Chickens

Hot Ginger and Dynamite

(Cavity Search)

Pete Krebs first gained prominence as a member of early punk/pop bands Hazel and Thrillhammer. Of the two, Hazel was the one which sent critics scrambling for adjectives, just in time for Krebs to jump ship and try his hand at a bluegrass hybrid in Golden Delicious. From there, it was a small matter to go solo with stellar indie singer/songwriter albums like Brigadier, Western Electric, and Sweet Ona Rose. The latter showed Krebs on intimate terms with a laid-back confessional vibe (which he would explore further on the hushed and inviting EP Bittersweet Valentines), and it’s little wonder that he collaborated with Elliott Smith.

All of which leads to Hot Ginger and Dynamite, an album that certainly fits into Krebs’ established eclectic streak, but which is also suitably out of left field that you can’t see it coming in any of his earlier work. With the Kung Pao Chickens, Krebs attempts to recreate the early brand of ‘20s and 30’s jazz that was steeped in stellar acoustic guitar playing (Woody Allen’s recent film Sweet and Lowdown is an excellent introduction to the style). Krebs is no Django Reinhardt, nor does he try to be, but he proves to be an able and likable guide through some of the genre’s most established chestnuts.

The most immediately familiar track is probably “Nagasaki” (you know, where “the fellas chew tobacky”), a song that’s probably filtered down to most of us through our grandparents humming, or through skillful use in a Warner Brothers cartoon. It’s also a testament that this music comes from a more innocent time, before Nagasaki became the cautionary symbol that it is today. It’s music with a smile on its face, summoning images of moonlit drives, slick suits, and none of the country’s ensuing pessimism. If no other image fills the mind when listening to this record, it’s of musicians smiling to themselves and merely enjoying the light-footed grooves that they find on tracks like “Bossa Dorado”, “Fiso Place” or “Minor Swing”.

It’s really hard to find any fault with Hot Ginger and Dynamite. It’s not a forced entry into the recent swing revival. It’s not a failed deconstruction of a genre that was fine to begin with. It’s certainly not a vanity project—when’s the last time anyone got mainstream respect for skillfully paying homage to the past? If nothing else, it’s one more piece of the Pete Krebs puzzle, one which shows us that within the niche he’s carved out for himself, there are still fascinating cubbyholes and pockets for him to root around in. If Krebs were a more well known name (imagine: the Fred Durst Hot Jazz Hour!), the attendant pressures might have poisoned this project. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and Krebs may introduce a few lucky souls to this sound that never really grew stale.

It ain’t reinventing the wheel, but it’s more than enough.

Andrew Gilstrap is a freelance writer living in South Carolina, where he's able to endure the few weeks each year that it's actually freezing (swearing a vow that if he ever moves, it'll be even farther south). Aging into a fine curmudgeon whose idea of heaven is 40 tree-covered acres away from the world, he increasingly wishes he were part of a pair of twins, just so he could try being the kinda evil one on for size. Musically, he's always scouring records for that one moment that makes him feel like he's never heard music before, but he long ago realized he needs to keep his copies of John Prine, Crowded House, the Replacements, Kate Bush, and Tom Waits within easy reach.

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