Featured Artists May 2008: Mad Tea Party

Uke-abilly. “Americana for the modern generation”. I can only be referring to one band–the Twirl Artists of the Month for May 2008, Asheville, North Carolina’s Mad Tea Party! I interviewed them for Twirl Radio on May 22nd, 2008.

This zany power duo features Ami Worthen on vocals and electrified ukulele(!), and Jason Krekel on guitar, foot drums, vocals, and a host of other instruments. With apologies to George Thorogood, these folks are a two person quartet! They play a fun, lively repertoire of mostly original songs, which complement their sound, which is, well, fun and lively!

I am the luckiest boy on earth, because I have in my proud possession an advance copy of the next Mad Tea Party album, Found A Reason–which is my favorite release of 2008 so far. Here it is, early May, and the album won’t be released until mid-July–giving me a head start on the other radio people and reviewers. Almost makes me look like some kind of genius for being that far ahead of the curve!

So how did little ol’ me, here in Sacramento, happen upon these future superstars before they got big and famous? Well, as has happened so many times before, it’s MySpace to the rescue. Specifically, my friend Jenny in Virginia, who saw Mad Tea Party live, and highly recommended them. One thing led to another, and here we are. And pretty soon, I’ll join the ranks of the MTP-heads, because Mad Tea Party will be performing in Sacramento at Marilyn’s on May 22nd, during the first of two West Coast tours this year!

Let’s step back for a moment and try to figure out who these two are. Ami does most of the singing and songwriting, and is singlehandedly turning the ukulele into a credible rock instrument. You can hear it in the mix in every song. And Jason is a powerhouse multiinstrumentalist, playing some ferocious, jazzy guitar licks on the new CD.

A little more about their sound. They are by far the most unique band in my current on-air rotation. They have a retro jazzy, jump blues feel, with some rockabilly, R&B, surf, and rock thrown in for good measure. The constant is their good natured humor and sweetness. Picture Brian Setzer meets Melanie meets Barenaked Ladies, and you get close to it. Although this group answers to a diverse set of musical influences, they wind up sounding incredibly original.

So here’s what happened when I tore away the shrink wrap of Found A Reason. The leadoff track, Blues Slip In, comes at you immediately with the full Mad Tea Party onslaught. The ukulele and guitar riffs start right away with no lead-in whatsoever. The slightly overmodulated and distorted recording of this part of the song add to the sense of urgency. After only four seconds, Ami’s vocals come in singing the chorus, and then the foot drums come in. She then sweetly sings the verse about how everything’s going wrong, no matter how hard she tries. She even coos one of the syllables, and soon enough, she’s got your sympathy. Then Jason comes in with some background “whoo-ooo-oo’s”, and we’re off and running. All in the first 25 seconds! Then at about 1:03 in the song, Jason scats some tasty “bow bow ba-bow-bow-bow bow’s”, and I’m an instant fan for life! This whole song is only 2:06, but it gives you a really representative feel of what this group is all about. Fun, lively, occasionally fast and furious. If you’re not a Mad Tea Party fan by now, something’s wrong. With you.

Every Way is similar in its fast pace, but with Jason taking some lively, soulful vocals, and Ami on backup. The ukulele takes the lead, and Jason gets a chance to seriously rock it with a fuzztone guitar sound. I Went Out features a playful Ami singing about her grown up independence. Whaddaya Want is a lively reading of a Leiber and Stoller composition. Ami repeatedly asks “Whaddaya Want”, while Jason sings of not wanting any material possessions, just love. His most inspired vocals on the disc.

A few other highlights: I Never Was A Cool One, a self-deprecating charmer where Ami name checks dozens of 1980’s references, not unlike some of the songs on Barenaked Ladies debut album. Big Noise From Krekel pays homage to Bob Crosby’s legendary Big Noise From Winnetka. But the Mad Tea Party original sounds more like a surf music version of Flight of the Bumblebee. Ami plays a stoic, driving uke lead, while Jason flies us all over the place with his guitar solos. Incredible! And finally, the title track Found A Reason is a joyful song that like the leadoff track, is highly representative of the Mad Tea Party sound. All in all, a must-have album.

The press release which accompanied the album mentioned two tracks to focus on, and five markets which are considered “best” for Mad Tea Party. I’m thinking more like eight focus tracks for Twirl Radio, and EVERY city for these guys. Especially Sacramento on May 22nd. I’m looking forward to meeting Ami and Jason in person, and am pleased to have Mad Tea Party as the Twirl Artists of the Month for May, 2008!

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