This album has one of my favorite new songs on it, “The Abe Vigoda Polka.” Hysterical! Go see The Porchistas play it live on June 8 at Tierney’s Tavern in Montclair, along with the rest of “Porch Drive.”
I know a local album is good when it has four strong contenders for the Song of the Week. The nominees on Montclair-based The Porchistas’ new Porch Drive are:
• The opening “The Martyrs,” a reggae-tinged call to arms with Elvis Costello-like soul-pop overtones that aims to inspire a continuation of a rebellion started by the title characters.
• “The Abe Vigoda Polka,” an hysterical but touching tale of a musical couple, who, during an adventure in Florida, twice run into the unsung actor Abe Vigoda (“Barney Miller,” “The Godfather”), to whom the song is a tribute.
• “She Deserves,” a fun, folkie Jimmy Buffett-esque character study about a woman who dances naked in the rain by the sea.
• “Bitter Fruit,” a gypsy jazz nugget with a stray cat strut that flirts with hard rock sung by Kelly Henneberry in homage to a variety of jazz greats, particularly Billie Holiday.
And the winner is … “The Abe Vigoda Polka.” The funny folk tale is set to a variety of traditional dance rhythms, including Southern Italian, country waltz, Cajun two-step and, of course, the polka. Like Texas-based Grammy winners Brave Combo — and thanks largely to the grand chops of Caravan of Thieves violinist Nicole Scorsone and Electrolytes leader/saxophonist Linda Everswick — the ethnic, rootsy Porchistas demonstrate how those traditional dance styles relate to each other and can be arranged in a way that blends fairly seamlessly.
But the song’s greatest strength is its heartfelt marriage between entertaining absurdity and enlightening conviction. The spoken bridge literally makes me laugh out loud and want to do a first-ever Makin Waves year-end top 10 song list just so I can include “The Abe Vigoda Polka,” one of my all-time favorite songs by a local band.
The rest of the album is a hoot and/or statement. The ska-flavored do-good ditty, “Intervention,” is both, as it recalls the socially conscious quirkiness of They Might Be Giants. That is, until it takes a jazzy, prog-rock turn along the lines of Traffic around the 3:30 mark, about a quarter of the way through the track. Written with Scorsone, who sings on the bridge, singer-songwriter-guitarist Al Smith skewers the hypocrisy of corporations, who, during their wellness weeks for their employees and, in some cases, their employees’ families, commit all kinds of crimes against environmental and economic justice.
Like They Might Be Giants, as well as The Beatles, Uncle Tupelo and Jersey’s own The Wooden Soldiers, among others, The Porchistas have two main singer-songwriters — also Adam Falzer, the lead guitarist. While neither he nor Smith are exceptional vocalists, they both write captivating story songs brimming with passion and overflowing with fascinating stylistic diversity.
Whereas Falzer’s “The Martyrs” makes a political statement, his “Precious Cargo” relies on humor as a celebration of Saturday morning cartoons and pancakes that recalls Jack Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes.” Amidst the great backing vocals and counter harmonies of Scorsone, Falzer sings one of the best lines on Porch Drive: “I know we’re on roller coaster of friendship and control.”
Smith and Falzer are at their best when they write together, such as with “Abe Vigoda” and “She Deserves,” both of which, Smith sings. Following three studio albums since 2011 and last year’s “Axis & Allies” EP, songwriting that best accentuates eclectically expressed roots and globe-spanning styles makes “Porch Drive” the strongest release yet by The Porchistas — also keyboardist-accordionist Ed Fritz, drummer Jon Riordan, and bassist-engineer Gerry Griffin, who gets a separate production credit alongside the band.
In addition to stylistically, The Porchistas globe trot linguistically. On the love song “Blue Louise,” Falzer sings a bit in French accompanied by Fritz’s romantic accordion. And on the eco-minded “Hope for the Flowers,” Smith and guest vocalist Jenn Mustachio diversify their lovely duet in Spanish.
The simple yet powerful Porchistas will celebrate the release of Porch Drive on a 2GB flexible wristband flash drive, as well as digitally, June 8 at their home away from their home studio, Tierney’s Tavern, also in Montclair. Their buds in Accidental Seabirds and The Big Drops will share the bill.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.