The Chandler Travis Philharmonic
If Chandler Travis has a problem with his music’s being categorized as “zany” or “wacky” – adjectives he especially detests – that’s his own fault. His long-time band the Incredible Casuals have blended comic wordplay – even in the service of serious numbers – and deft rock musicianship for years; listeners can’t be faulted if it’s the comedy that sticks with them. This time around, however, the music takes the lead; credit Travis’s decision to stop working his vocal phrasing for laughs, but also the abilities of his big band, which formed a half-decade ago around a residency at Cambridge’s Lizard Lounge.
With a horn-and-reed section, timpani, mandolin, and accordion augmenting a basic rock rhythm section, this disc has an ambitious scope. Sometimes the line-up sounds like a New Orleans street-parade band; sometimes there’s a textural sweep that swells with the urgency of Travis’s singing. And there are pure instrumentals, like the disc’s short intro and outro numbers, and ” . . . Or Alabama Either,” which plays like contemplative jazz pianist Bill Evans jamming with a horn section after a long, bourbon-fueled night. But even on this largely sober album, which addresses his troubled relationships with his father (“My Old Man”), the agony of perpetual heartache (the prickly XTC-like “Village of the Darned”), and other issues, Travis can’t resist numbers like “Fluffy,” a careering rocker where he asks “how do you keep yourself so regular” and croons about personal hygiene.
BY TED DROZDOWSKI