Lord Mouse Rocks the Calypso World--From Germany

Go Calypsonian
Piranha Musik
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There was a time in which Caribbean music was a lot more fun and a lot less performer-focused. For most of the 20th century, music from the islands was unabashed party music filled with blaring horns, swaying rhythms, and unpretentious musicians that emphasized having a good time over virtuosity and weren’t afraid to pour on the schmaltz if it made the party livelier. Enter Lord Mouse and the Kalypso Katz, who take us back to such days. Close you eyes on “Monkey Bop” or “Limbo Song” and it could be a Havana nightclub in the mid-1950s, where a bunch of loosened white-collared Americanos are wearing skinny black ties, shaking their stuff, and trying not to look like they’re with the CIA (which they probably were). 

If that image strikes you as odd, try this one: Lord Mouse is a Caucasian American who lives in Berlin and whose German-based 17-piece calypso band may well be the best in the business. (They’re certainly the best in Europe!) Go Calypsonian is brassy, bodacious, sweaty, retro, and often intentionally silly. Lord Mouse refuses to take himself too seriously. In the glorious and wicked “White Boy Calypso” he parodies himself by singing in a faux Jamaican accent atop a reggae-meets-calypso melody. The song’s chorus that will sear itself into your brain: “Hey white boy, why you sing/The songs of the Caribbean/Why you sing the songs/Of a place you’ve never been?’ Disarming honesty such as this forces us to see Lord Mouse as something more than so many white wannabes sporting dirty dreadlocks. In fact, he and his band go for the cheesy nightclub look, with Mouse looking like a misplaced Django gypsy and his female singers like the lost daughters of Charo and Carmen Miranda. Listen to them ham it up on “Chunga Changa.” When Mouse sings “Snake Charmer,” it’s tempting to think of it as autobiographical. All of this is to say, this is one helluva party record (though the last two tracks evoke movie soundtracks).

Here’s the best part. These folks are having a ripping good time, but they are not lampoon artists. The rhythm section is solid, the horn players hot, and the timing exquisite. Lord Mouse is a fabulous singer, who can be smooth and suave one moment, and a rakish devil the next. He has the range to take us from the perches occupied by high-voiced crooners or the depths where growly baritones reside. The Katz have stripped away the look-at-me pretense of over-produced contemporary music, but their very insouciance honors the vintage pan-Caribbean traditions from which they draw. Think Harry Belafonte before they packaged him for television. These Katz may be white, but they sound like calicos from where I dance. --Rob Weir

 This album doesn’t have its official release until July 9, but you can (and should) get it online. You can hear its tracks at https://soundcloud.com/kalypsokatz

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