During the ’90s, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy scored some pretty high points by jumping on the bandwagon of an ephemeral swing revival spear-headed primarily by Squirrel Nut Zippers. The band’s music appeared in a movie (Swingers, 1996, starring Vince Vaughn, Heather Graham, and Jon Favreau) that fortuitously took off, taking the band with it, and not without good reason. BBVD capitalized on this with a Grammy nominated album — the self-titled Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (1998) — and an appearance at half time of Superbowl XXXIII. As the hype died down, it released a less successful follow-up album This Beautiful Life (1999) and took to a grueling concert tour lasting through the latter part of the ’90s — we’re talking an average of 200 concerts a year — spanning multiple continents. Now it’s back with Save My Soul. With such an enticing title, how can one not be tempted to read into it and ask what defines the soul that is seeking redemption?
This new album is a departure from the existing output as it is firmly grounded in the New Orleans style of music that served as home and foundation for jazz, blues, swing, and their derivatives. It consists primarily of stomping, heavily syncopated beats with overlaying slick melodies, simple textures and brassy timbres. Inspired by Jazz Fest in New Orleans, BBVD’s front man Scotty Morris whipped up the album in a matter of weeks beginning with the Professor Longhair/Fats Domino groove “You Know You Wrong” and the foot-tapping Louis Armstrong-style track “Simple Songs”. The characteristics of the New Orleans style are prevalent from the first track with the sparse drums, growling brass and male chorus chant “Zig Zaggity Woop Woop”. Fingers start to click and you can just picture those wingtips tapping. The first half of the album has a smattering of entertaining tracks such as “Don’t You (Feel My Leg)” — a sassy slinky number where Morris adopts the persona of a woman subjected to unwanted attention.
The second half of the album is by far superior to the first. After the dull and uninspiring “Next Week Sometime” that simulates a jaunty rag-time style about a guy who won’t buy a girl imported wine until next week sometime, the pace picks up with the title track as the band makes a heartfelt pitch to salvage the remainder of the album. “Save My Soul”, easily the best track, is a catchy swing ballad with slow tempo and a bluesy feel with some creative studio production mix. The momentum is matched on the following track “I Like It” that’s peppered with Latin-flavored rhythms and bursting with vitality. It’s followed by “Zig Zaggity Woop Woop, Part II” (an extended version of Part I) to close out the album. Oh, and there’s an addendum track recorded in mono that’s completely out of place.
As good as you may consider this album to be, it pales in comparison to seeing the band perform live. A performance by BBVD should be considered an all-encompassing cultural experience, where pizzazz oozes out of the fedora hats, zoot suits, and black-and-white spectator shoes that together package the eight hep cats and their (mostly) original swing music. While the earlier self-titled album can be faulted for being too polished, the change in style on Save My Soul reflects even more of a live music tradition — performances as witnessed in clubs on Bourbon Street. BBVD took to producing this on their own in an attempt to strike a balance between live and studio presentation. The method they employed was one of mixing vintage microphones with modern state-of-the-art recording equipment. The result, while really no closer to sounding live (maybe they should consider putting out some real live recordings?), nevertheless is a clever counterbalance between instrumentation and vocals that highlights all of the characteristics the New Orleans style embraces. Regardless, you know they’re slipping when even the enthusiastic shouts of “Yeah” in the background of “You Know You Wrong” are impeccably timed.
With this in mind, understand that the album is a prelude to the driving force of the band’s success. The soul of this album, an affirmation of the band’s roots, will be saved in true big band tradition as BBVD takes to the road once more with new material and renewed energy. While sensors don’t currently detect a swing revival within mainstream culture to help promote this, there remains a strong underground movement where fans will no doubt devour this album and wait in anticipation for the scheduled 100+ concert tour to come its way.