The California Feetwarmers were recommended to me by no less than Vince Giordano of the Nighthawks and Robin Rapuzzi of Tuba Skinny. I’ve long enjoyed a track of theirs where the band accompanies an amazingly orchestrated swing dance sequence on YouTube. Last year I saw so many European shows on their calendar I mistakenly thought the were a European band!
They are undoubtedly an important group on the scene and with their new album Gloryland, I finally have reason to give them some ink.
The California Feetwarmers are an L.A. based trad band enamored by string ragtime, stomps, and the happier side of New Orleans jazz. It was that authentic but joyful sound Keb’ Mo’ was after when he used them on his grammy-nominated song “The Old Me Better“. That 2014 success helped open doors and they’ve since caught on especially on the international swing dance scene.
An “influences” list from most bands is essentially meaningless but in this case, a list including The Blue Ridge Playboys, Scott Joplin, The Memphis Jugband, and Emile Grimshaw’s Rag Pickers is telling. Despite that, they aren’t overly hokum and more of this album is New Orleans than Tennessee.
Many trad groups can smartly switch gears to play swing when the occasion requires. The California Feetwarmers are the first I’ve come across booked to play accompaniment at a show exploring the history of Mexican-American music. It may not be that surprising given most if not all of the band seems to come from a Spanish background but switching genres with the same group isn’t easy. These are talented musicians who can make it work and the upcoming show sounds like a fantastic time.
They bring that talent to an album of unusual variety. They kick off with a rollicking ensemble treatment of “Minor Drag”. Then a guest vocal from Blind Boy Paxton makes for a memorable to-the-cemetery version of “Over in the Gloryland”. His uniquely authentic, if tongue in cheek approach is also heard on “Rock Away Blues” and “I’m Drifting Back to Dreamland”.
Other guests include Marquis W. Howell of the Rythm Howlers, Mario J. Maggio and Jessy Carolina of the Holy Crow Jazz Band, and three others. It’s a seven man group to begin with so the result is a large ensemble focused sound. Several of the core members appear on instruments of different classes; cornet and pump organ, clarinet and piano, etc. True multi-instrumentalists. One of the guests is there to contribute vibraphone to a track.
Merle Travis’s “No Vacancy” is performed in a true late 40s western swing style. “Short Dress Gal” is a thumper taking the fantastic bob inherent in the Sam Morgan original to the edge of the possible while encouraging a call and response. Henry “Red” Allen‘s “Feeling Drowsy” is beautifully rendered around a lead passing smoothly from cornet to trombone. “Royal Garden Blues” and “Weary Blues” are played as straight driving traditional jazz.
There are two successful originals, the big brass sound of “Wany Nights” has a theatrical soundtrack quality to it. Another reviewer called it vaguely Hawaiian but to me it has a dark Calypso or ghostly New Orleans feel. The other new composition is “I Got Dreams”. Perfectly rendered with lyrics timeless enough to intuit before they are sung and a chorus to sing along with by the second run through. It feels so true I was sure they dug it up somewhere.
The California Feetwarmers bring both substance and good cheer to a deep exploration of American roots music. If you haven’t heard them yet this album is a great place to start.
Learn more at www.californiafeetwarmers.com