“The Snake Oil Medicine Show reunion is quickly becoming a phenomenal and also logical yearly event,” writes artist Phil Cheney. The band got its start more than 20 years ago “in the basement of a split-level home on the suburban fringes of the greater Atlanta area” and went on to record six studio albums and a live DVD. And though, over the course of the band’s tenure, relationships have been tested, musicians have moved away (and back), babies were born and life marched on, the core members still maintain close ties and kindred spirits. As they sing on the Cajun-flavored track “All I Got,” “All I got in this world is love for you.”
That song is the new Snake Oil Medicine Show album, The Golden Hour. This year’s reunion concert is also a release party with founding members Cheney, Caroline Pond, George and Andy Pond, Jason Krekel and Jay Sanders joined by Billy Seawell on drums at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall on Friday, Aug. 21. 9 p.m., $8 advance/$10 at the door.
“Through thick and through thin we have always stuck to our mission to spread world peace through our art and our music,” Cheney says. “We are keeping the dream alive, playing music when we can all break free and come together to bring our gifts to you.”
The album is Snake Oil in its zany, genre-bending full-form. “We Make It Nice” leads off the eight-track record with high energy fiddle and a kind of bluegrassified psychedelia custom-made for the dance floor. “Too Much Coffee/Square Fish” is a supercaffeinated square dance that frolics through minor and major key changes and picking so speedy and lithe it begs repeats listens. “Digga Deep” leads off with Caroline’s own style of scatting. Parts jazz, parts reggae and resonate with rich guitar melody, the song takes its sense of whimsy very seriously. “Nice Vieux” shifts away from Snake Oil’s trademark hippy-hoe-down in favor of smooth sounds and Afrobeat influences. It’s experimental, but also elegantly dark around the edges — a stand-out track. “Rough Road,” a return to the knee dips and warbly vocals, is presented in both its sunny, up-front original and a bass-y and reverberating dub version. The album’s final offering is also its title track. It finds Caroline’s vocal in a lower register for the first verse or so, before the song shifts into the bouncy bluegrasstafari for which the band is known.
Try listening to this record with a frown. Can’t be done. Despite the listener’s feelings about reggae baselines or banjo picking (and the marriage thereof), it’s the pervasive sense of joy that ultimately shines through.