How many band profiles can start with a line like this: "Led by a ranting spoken-word artist named 'Wammo' and a woman whose voice channels the ghost of Bessie Smith…"?
But then again, the Asylum Street Spankers are not your average band. For starters, they have long been an all-acoustic band. I don't just mean that they use acoustic instruments. For 10 years, they have played their music without the aid of any electrical equipment whatsoever, or as they put it, "without any of that demon electricity." Just recently, though, the band has started to use an unobtrusive amplification system that remains true to the spirit of their plug-free roots. While the Spankers hearken back to the days when musicians played on front porches and in rural juke joints and dance halls, it's wrong to dismiss them as simply a nostalgia act.
They began as a side project for a large, revolving group of musicians in Austin, Texas, in the mid-1990s. Playing for tips during club happy hours, they would march through the audience, hat in hand, singing "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime." In the years since, they have long transcended being a part-time hobby or having to beg for coins. The Asylum Street Spankers have become a must-see national touring act, attracting rave reviews across North America and Europe. The Memphis Flyer called them "one of the best live acts you are likely to see anywhere."
The Asylum Street Spankers' music is a mix of old-time blues, standards and country, with a few humorous rants thrown in for good measure. Band leaders Christina Marrs and Wammo both cut their teeth on punk rock, and bring that attitude to the country-blues revival sound of the Spankers. Imagine the Squirrel Nut Zippers as the house band of an old burlesque show.
Their latest release, "Mercurial," the band's sixth on their own Spanks-a-Lot Records, is a self-described "party album." "Mercurial" includes the Spankers' unique takes on various jazz and blues classics, made famous by such singers as Nina Simone, Cab Calloway, Tony Bennett and Sophie Tucker, as well as covers of Black Flag, the B-52's and Jazz Butcher. Recorded in a restored wooden church in Austin, the album was taped completely live, with no overdubs or remixes. The Asylum Street Spankers wouldn't have it any other way.
The Asylum Street Spankers show at Studio Two was cancelled. They are not playing at this time.