Everyone’s Got ‘Em
White Ghost Shivers

by D.M. Jones Everyone’s Got ‘Em
The Austin, Texas scene has survived and thrived for decades, outlasting brief artistic novae from places like Athens, Minneapolis, Raleigh/Durham and Seattle. Another notch on Austin’s musical barrel can be attributed to decidedly irreverent 8-piece combo the White Ghost Shivers, who harken back to the string band days of the Roaring 20s while adding elements of bawdy cabaret, bluegrass, swing and raunchy blues. Not unlike a volatile batch of bathtub gin, the music is potent, dynamic, a little dangerous and, once you’re properly acclimated, easy to swallow. And funny as hell.

The instrumentation on Everyone’s Got ‘Em is period-correct: saxophone, prominent banjo, upright bass and acoustic guitar; they’re all played with equal parts precision and abandon. The title track’s jittery rag is chock-full of cheeky humor and old-fashioned vibe. My imagination instantly conjured up the singing frog from that old Looney Tunes cartoon, warbling as several monocle-wearing Monopoly bankers jitterbugged along, fingers wagging. That was during the opening song, mind you.

The band’s mixture of pathos and humor shines on “Mama Said” which features brassy female vocals intoning morbid lines like “In the end the worms will have their say,” all the while inducing Happy Feet. It’s certainly the peppiest rumination on death, the devil and retribution I’ve heard in awhile.

“The Ghost Song” creeps along on a brooding clarinet line and trudging rhythm, while the narrator’s quavering, almost strangling vocal describes the haunting of someone who once performed a terrible deed. The staircase-climbing-and-falling accordion adds to the almost visual depth of the instrumentation, which effectively conveys a gothic oldness and coldness. It’s still a hoot, though.

The jarring “My Land” is hilariously disorienting, as a retro-genteel rag is overrun by the ribald modernity of its lyrics, which (among other things) mention mullets, Camaros and liquor store robberies.

The White Ghost Shivers give the impression of a particularly aggressive 20s-era band transported to the present and realizing the ruckus they make is not only novel but also highly entertaining - so they naturally step up the energy level another notch. Yiddish fiddles rival modern guitar leads, manic banjos pump out feverish rhythms and horns leapfrog and argue throughout the faster numbers, leaving the listener more breathless than the players.

The album is hyper and dense but features a good amount of variety. Kazoos accompany an endless barrage of double entendres in “Toot Your Whistle,” which makes one wonder if folks were anywhere near this randy back in the day (maybe Prince’s great-grandpappy). Likewise, “Shiver’s Stomp” puts lots of sugar in the hooch at a would-be barn dance, where the band appears to be hosting a nihilistic mass hookup. The Shivers swing while the cows run off and nobody’s in any shape to care. This music is serious fun.

Everyone’s Got ‘Em contains more lyrical and instrumental tweaks than I can count, but everything coalesces to serve the songs. It’s a clever, dark and comi-tragic ride made more palpable by the quasi-antique setting and arrangements, and, if the bio materials are any indication, the band’s visual presentation rivals the music. Austin, watch out.

Copyright 2006 Ad Media Inc.