Give ‘em The Business

By Sarah Tackett

When Mr. J-Roddy handed me a cardboard covered, duct-taped copy of his new album (that appeared to have somebody’s blood on it), I was all smiles. Here Come Trouble promises serious fun, complete with the blood, sweat, and maybe even some man-tears of this hardworking band.

“Work?!” you declare “but their songs are so whimsical and fancy-free?” And this is very true. However, seeing them in concert makes it obvious that these kids have put some serious time and effort into their music. Either that, or they’re magical.

So what makes them so great? For starters, they play their instruments well. Flawlessly well. Now that might seem expected from a group of touring musicians, but I assure you it’s not. (Hell, even Madonna-pop-goddess can’t play the guitar. It’s really pitiful to watch her try and people still cheer for her like she invented the thing.) J-Roddy plays the piano like he invented the piano. That is skill, ladies and gentlemen.

The rest of the guys are perfect. Just to give you an idea of their range, the keyboardist pulled out a trumpet and then later a banjo. If he threw a tuba on his back while playing the xylophone with his feet it wouldn’t have surprised me. The drummer also rocked. Large crashing percussion noises happened at appropriately manic moments. Other times, songs were completed with the light ding of the triangle. (It’s funny how that ding makes all the difference). One of the guitarists also plays a mean kazoo…speaking of instruments that make all the difference—nothing sounds quite like a kazoo.

They are talented, and they have arrived at a completely unique sound. That itself is the impossible dream of most bands out there. These days the radio plays cover garbage and the same sampled beats of the same songs over and over like there is nothing else left.

J-Roddy and The Business are fantastic because they offer a completely unique show altogether. It’s like a carnival, or an insanely gifted one-man-band. It doesn’t make sense but it is hypnotically beautiful, funny, and fascinating to see—like watching polar bears swim—you always want to stick around just to see what they’ll do next.

At times J-Roddy sings with a scratchy boozed-up voice about being “drunk on a young girl’s love” and the music follows him, and before you know it you feel like swaying back and forth in a singsong drunken saloon dance. Then the whole band breaks out into the desperate chorus screaming, “I love you, I love you.” It’s dead on reminiscent of hysterical answering machine messages of intoxicated exes. And it’s hilarious.

At other times his vocals are smooth and crystal clear. He’s backed up by the rest of the band in falsetto who sounds just like a small children’s choir. His piano becomes peppy and the whole band pulls it together, to later surprise you again with sudden outbursts of choreographed head-banging and ninja-kicks. Whatever the mood, their music always maintains a brilliant energy that makes you want to dance.

The band’s lyrics are quixotic, puzzling and a tad romantic. For example, “I saw a heart in your shopping cart,” or “Hate and love and joy and pain/ burn a little different but they’re all the same.” However, sometimes they border profound, “my friend had a friend he knew how to bend/ he taught me for free how to bend what I be/and strange as it sounds I was bent on being me.”

These guys are smart, and they practice their instruments, as well as their ninja-kicks. They have Willy Wonka sized imaginations and they have worked their pants off to create a new sound, that can most simply be described as being underwater at the circus in a little drunken saloon where they play boozy blues and festive pop.

Whatever, all I know is that their music makes you feel good. I’m nobody’s groupie, but I have already carved J-Roddy Walston and The Business into my trapper-keeper. Please, if Rolling Stone dares to give Northern State, (the chicks whose only talent is ripping off the Beastie Boys) three stars, the least you could do is check out J-Roddy’s album for doing something completely original. Seriously, how often do you get the chance? n