By Samuel Wigness
There are few instances in music when the ceramic XXX moonshine jug has been used to great effect. It seemed to disappear after Mungo Jerry’s use in the 1970 hit “Summertime,” perhaps returning to the porch from whence it came.
Leave it to a band called the Dumpy Jug Bumpers to dust it off and bring it back to life.
In their new album, Dumpin’ at the Savoy, the Bumpers borrowed a few things from the moonshine jug’s porch and the time when it was left. From the plucky banjo to the hollow standup bass, the mournful hollering vocals to the kazoo solos, DJB fills the ragtime/country blues void that Minneapolis has carried for so long.
With track titles like “Viola Lee Blues,” “Peaches in the Springtime” and “Mississippi River Waltz,” the album promises a sound similar to the soundtrack of O Brother! Where Art Though, then breaks that promise immediately. Instrumentally, the Jug Bumpers are similar to Old Crow Medicine Show and The Devil Makes three, but lyrics like “Sellin’ nuts, hot nuts! Anybody here wanna buy my nuts?” deny the ability to take them too seriously.
Not that they’d want to be taken seriously.
The Bumpers pulled the (true) sorrow and seemingly mandatory references to rivers and mountains out of bluegrass, folk and country blues, and merges what’s left with ragtime to create an upbeat, comical album.
In the album’s two instrumental tracks – “Dallas Rag” and “Mississippi River Waltz” – the band seems to satirize the bygone genres by borrowing popular riffs and heavily featuring the kazoo. Don’t be mistaken, the music is still great, but it is comically over the top.
It’s tough to say whether the Bumpers are really satirizing depression-era music because they dance the line so well. The music really is great and a worthy tribute to the great bluegrass players before them, but it’s hard not to laugh at songs like “I Got the Stuff,” “Take a Look at that Baby” and, my favorite, “Hot Nuts.”
I imagine DJB really appreciates the history of ragtime and folk, but jumped on a golden opportunity to give it a comical twist. If so, they’ve succeeded, and are providing a valuable service to the music world.