Album Reviews

Hazmat Modine

Extra-Deluxe Supreme

Artist:     Hazmat Modine

Album:     Extra-Deluxe-Supreme

Label:     Barbés Records

Release Date:     06/03/2016

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Hazmat Modine’s latest release, Extra-Deluxe-Supreme, breaks new ground by combining musical styles both American and world. Eclecticism is their modus operandi. In addition to their signature sounds of tuba, harmonica, guitars, accordion, and horns, now they add marimba, doshpuluur, Igil, railroad spikes, claviola, rocks and cimbalom. The lineup is diverse as well and includes men and women of all ages, blacks and whites, rock and jazz musicians. “I think that’s an important ingredient to what the band is. I pick people who wouldn’t naturally go together,” says bandleader Wade Shuman.

The CD starts off with “Another Day” featuring bluesy brass and accordion over a Waitsian junkyard rhythm. Modine puts nasty overdriven blues dirt on the guitar solo. Track Two, “Plans” opens with bluesy horn swells on sax and tuba further punctuated by “ooh-oohs.” The song picks up tempo, features tasty harmonica work, and lead vocals reminiscent of Al Green. With lyrical wit, he sings “You better hold back brother. Keep your pig on a leash.” By track three, “Your Sister” it’s clear this group is on a different plane. Did I just hear traditional Mongolian melodies blending seamlessly with funky New Orleans horn lines? Yes! And all within the lyrical context of getting cozy with someone’s sibling. “Whiskey Bird” features far out Tuvan throat singing that somehow blends organically with American blues. Anyone who’s seen the great documentary Ghengis Blues will understand the connection between the Steppe and the Delta.

In past releases, the group has collaborated with legendary Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu; here they teamed up with Alash, another band from Tuva. “I brought in the Tuvans again because I thought that they intersect perfectly with a certain kind of American idiomatic language.” Shuman explains. “I’m going for a kind of rural American sounds but the irony is that the Tuvans are playing their own version of the fiddle and banjo and flute – it’s exactly where the tonality of Asia and the Midwest meet.”

Despite this seemingly disparate conglomerate, Extra-Deluxe-Supreme is their most American release yet. Here Hazmat Modine draws from a deep well of American musical genres such as Gospel, R&B, Country, Blues, early jazz and the songcraft of Tin Pan Alley. “I like the idea of a New York music which by its nature is eclectic,” says Schuman.

As a world music epicurean, I’ve always sought sounds far out from far away but tend to avoid diluted hybridization much the way I avoid “pan-Asian cuisine.” But for Hazmat Modine, this mix works. With an almost casual air of execution, Modine incorporates unexpected sonic elements that make you double take. Each track reveals surprising nuances that call for repeated listening. Highly recommended.

– Mike Cobb

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