As with the Red Clay Ramblers and Austin Lounge Lizards before them, it’s sometimes hard to know how seriously the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band wants their music taken. What are we to make of the outfits, the instrumentation, the song selection, and the recording process? The old-time “I’m My Own Grandpa” is obviously lighthearted, as is Shawn Camp’s tale of being knocked in the head by his wife for being lazy in “Fryin’ Pan.” The tributary title-song to the late Lester Armistead, with Buck Owens overtones, also qualifies. But how about the distant, old-style recording quality of “Mansion On The Hill,” the echo of “Bridge Washed Out,” or the big choral backing of “You Don’t Have To Be Present To Win?” Is it tongue-in-cheek or is it paying homage to what once was?
Take it as you may. My own response leans to the homage side, with the hardcore country shuffle of “Count Me Out,” Mike Webb’s lovely ode to the “Wood And Strings” of his guitar, and the gritty, electric guitar-driven cover of “Lonesome, Onry, and Mean” laying to rest any doubts of the group’s sincerity. What is never in question with this recording is the good fun and entertainment value intended. The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band wants you to have a good time. They want you to hear that ’50s-style of overdone choral backing and grin and remember when that was state-of-the-art. They want you to hear the washboard splashes and chuckle. They want you to get in the groove of “One Ole Shirt” or the instrumentals “Grey Eagle” and “Trombone Rag” or indeed any of these songs and just enjoy. That’s what the bands they admire aimed for in their day, and it’s what makes this recording successful all around. (Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, P.O. Box 1464, Goodlettsville, TN 37070, www.tennesseemafiajugband.com.)BW