It’s perhaps apt that Escape the Floodwater Jug Band’s new album comes out just in time for the great flood of 2008. The band photo on the back of the CD is set on the Sutliffe Bridge, which just got partially swept away by the Cedar River. The new CD has a slight majority of orignal songs to go along with covers of classic jug band tunes, but it is a testament to their dedication to the form that the originals fit right in alongside the classics.
The instrumental “Stomp Rag” features a surprisingly tender ensemble of jug, musical saw, glass harmonica and echoey banjo. “Is It Hard Being In A Jug Band” is a call-and-response verse paired with a chorus couched in a chord progression stolen from ’50s rock and roll. The combination of the go for broke lead vocal and background harmonies manages to sound punk rock and traditional at the same time. “Little Red Hen” is graced by the hysterical chicken Sprechgesang stylings of guest vocalist Gene-Patrick Mahoney. “Bat Sandwich” is a ridiculous novelty song replete with Spike-Jones bicycle horns. “Death of The Jug Band” prematurely commemorates the death of the band. It is a surprisingly gentle, wistful coda to the CD.
Jug band music was the original DIY punk rock. A disreputable street corner entertainment, it was DIY from the start, based on instruments made from objects common to even the poorest household. ETFW has been playing long enough to add a bit of professionalism to their arsenal, but they know enough to leave a few edges rough. They sing a lot about whiskey, but it’s not just because it’s a traditional Jug Band Subject — they keep it real, and I suspect have played some shows a little drunker than strictly necessary. But part of what makes their music exciting is the way it’s on the edge of falling apart. There’s six people in the band and they’re mostly all playing or singing all the time. What keeps it from sounding busy is the simplicity of the songs. The road is wide, and they wander out of their lanes but they know where they’re going, and they arrive mostly together. At any rate it can be a hell of a ride.