The Chandler Travis Philharmonic, Llama Rhymes, Sonic Trout. 3 & 1/2 stars
Chandler Travis made his reputation, first as a comic, then as the leader of The Incredible Casuals, a band beloved in its native New England. Travis’ latest venture is his most twisted and rewarding – and that is really saying something. The Philharmonic is a gathering of musical friends, harmless wackos, singing valets, expatriate classical and jazz musicians, a couple of Casuals, some members of NRBQ and, on the band’s new disc, Llama Rhymes, old friend George Carlin.
Llama Rhymes is a strange, wonderful, totally distinct ode to musical mastery and nonsense that recalls many things and resembles none of them. Imagine Andy Partridge of XTC and Beat poet Gregory Corso, each addled by mind-altering substances, wandering between Saturn and New Orleans to sit in with the Sun Ra Arkestra – and maybe a Dixieland band or a drunken polka band.
And that just scratches the surface.
Don’t be afraid. This music is BIG fun. It’s nonfattening. And it’s good for head and soul. A couple of songs – “Village of the Darned” and “Weasel Don’t Be Mean” – are so melodically developed and catchy that radio could conceivably play the songs, if not for the zany horn arrangements and lyrics that are obtuse, at least by the normal standards that this music so wonderfully skewers.
The standout tracks are the stuff of legend – “My Old Man,” a wonderfully wacky (dig the acoustic-guitar playing during the inebriated Dixieland break) take on fatherly advice. Then there is “Fluffy,” a fabulous spastic sing-along ode to the personal hygienic habits of the family cat that, in the Philharmonic tradition, colors way outside the musical lines to create chaotic art that is at once simple, abstract and wondrous to behold.
Llama Rhymes is a musical misadventure, pop music that is incredible, made to leave the listener incredulous, and created under the influence of humor, and, God forbid, intelligence.