By Brian Tucker
I met with The Phantom Playboys’ drummer “Jungle” Jim Kaylis earlier this week to pick up a copy of Baby Likes Booze, the local rockabilly band’s first album. It was produced by Rick Miller of Southern Culture on the Skids (who plays guitar on two tracks).
I reminded Kaylis of the band’s electrified show at the long-time closed bar Hollister 47. He paused a moment to think and then said with a smile, “yeah, that was a good show.”
Driving away I thought, now there’s an album of The Phantom Playboy songs, not just the memory of that live show a few years ago. And just as the band’s live set is a different beast than the studio recordings, the band from that Hollister 47 show is also different. Maaike Brender à Brandis joined The Phantom Playboys a while back, adding the thrust of trombone playing to an already energetic mix (plus singing on songs).
The band has an album release show this Saturday, April 19th at Orton’s in downtown Wilmington.
Recorded over three days in Chapel Hill, N.C. at Miller’s Kudzu Ranch, Baby Likes Booze is a heap of fun, teeming with energy, and has a raw yet polished feel. It delivers on the band’s notable sound while going in unexpected, fun ways. Beginning with a shotgun blast on “Wildcat Ways,” a song Carl Perkins would approve of, it’s replete with train-kept-a-rollin’ guitar playing and Eric Lawson’s on-the-run singing. Throughout the album Lawson displays engaging vocals, from spoken word style (“Devil’s Socks”) to hubba-hubba delivery (“65 Caprice”). The singer works the material like a wolf on the prowl, fiery as if a combo of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and The Cramps’ Lux Interior.
Baby Likes Booze runs the gamut of mood and intensity. On the defiance of “Pretty Corpse” Lawson bellows “I ain’t gonna leave a pretty corpse behind” like a call to arms for live a life worth living – and living wild. Or the creepiness of “The Stalker,” a stark number beginning with a numbing growl. It quickly turns to Jim Thomspon territory about a fella (who likes to say “gee whiz”) watching a beauty that “won’t give him the eye.” It’s here Lawson channels the snarl of Lux Interior, baited by the song’s gritty guitar work by Jake “Hot Rod” Horton and Brender à Brandis’ heavy steam horn playing.
There are a few songs that surprise. The band’s take on “Look at the Cadillac” is a real charmer. Imagine The Andrew Sisters’ singing with additional hmmmph on The Stray Cats/Brian Setzer’s swinging tune from the early 80s. Brender à Brandis’ singing is reserved yet cool, topped off with sharp teeth by ending a line with a cat’s growl. Kaylis’ drumming is delightful, reserved even, and the combo of steady percussion and high hat crash is great. Kaylis does it again with the rollicking instrumental “Psyclone.”
You sense the band really having fun throughout Baby Likes Booze, from the swinging “Lover’s Rock” to the album title track. The song’s cadence moves between tempered and explosive. Bassist Jones Smith and Kaylis get into a sultry groove, providing smoky atmosphere. Lawson leads the song as narrator, watching across the room telling everyone about a woman, a devil doll with a drink in each hand that “looks dangerous” and “covered with tattoos.” It’s a carnivorous tune; one that should be a lot of fun performed live (and make for a devilish music video).