Coffee Zombies- Percolatin’: Jazzing Up Contra Dance

Coffee Zombie. Percolatin’.
Coffee Zombies, 2013.

Coffee Zombies:

The Coffee Zombies are a foot-stompin’ contra folk band out of Louisville, Kentucky and Indianapolis, Indiana.  While contra might bring images of back-woods country to mind, Coffee Zombies also draw on Gypsy and Celtic influences, among others.  I know contra might not be for everyone, but there’s enough variety in their sound to interest any number of people.  Percolatin’ is the group’s second album together, and follows their 2011 Good to the Last Beat album.  I have to admit that besides their diverse influences and unique sound, I’m extremely impressed by Coffee Zombies’ non-musical endeavors- they manage to not only put out great tunes, but teach music as well.

The album is filled with tracks on the longer side, to get in a few good whirls and dance plenty before the tune changes, and most tracks have two or three song components built in (thus the really long track titles).  This play strategy is something not seen too often today, but a reminder of days gone by and old-timey shindigs.  Not that this is all traditional folk music by any means.  Plenty of the tracks have a swing or jazz touch to them, and the instrumentation varies throughout to match the tune.  Waltz, jig, and shanty feels all make it onto this record to get your toes tapping even if you’re not a contra fan.  Throughout, vocals are absent, leaving pure music that is pure gold.

In Sheik of Araby/Just Because/Airmail Special, the instruments take on a distinct vocal tone, as musical conversation takes the forefront.  Ghost Moon Over Carolina/Hommage a Led Zeppelin has haunting beginnings and solid drum work to set a seasonal tone as we step into autumn and the nights creep longer.  One of my favorites from this album is Inez and Elizabeth, with its lilting, twirling, wandering sound that just makes me smile.  For more high-energy songs, Catharsis/Blue Reel begins with a solid minor key but that doesn’t stop it from being a rousing good time, while Out on the Ocean/Blue Jig has a loping, steady quality that I found relaxing and would probably be a nice come-down from reeling on the dance floor a bit, and parts are reminiscent of early rock.

All in all, the album was a joy to listen to, and brought out some amazing sounds that I hadn’t heard put together previously.  Innovation on old forms is something that helps to keep folk music alive and relevant, and that’s a goal that I appreciate.  To be able to pull off the combinations and re-imaginings that Coffee Zombies does as well as they do is no small feat.  That accomplishment, their technical skill, and their brilliant sound are three great reasons to get off your duff and spin a little to the sounds of Percolatin’.

Personnel:  Tom Cunningham (fiddle, guitar), Dianna Davis (keyboard, accordion, clarinet, foot percussion), Bob Douglas (guitar, percussion)

Tracks: Farewell to Tchernobyl/Spinning Room/Paddy Drops His Cellphone, Get Thee to a Sconerie/Jug Juice, The Sheik of Araby/Just Because/Airmail Special, Ghost Moon Over Carolina/Hommage a Led Zeppelin, Flying Home to Shelley/Jackie Tar/Cooley’s, Inez and Elizabeth, Catharsis/Bus Stop Reel, Out On the Ocean/Blue Jig, Johnny’s Wedding/in Zanesville, I Don’t Like Ike/Farewell to January/Shenandoah Falls, Waltz of the Morning, Julia Delaney’s/Evil Diane/Tam Lin

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