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Spanks for the Memories 

Wednesday, Mar 29 2000
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For once, Austin's all-acoustic Asylum Street Spankers won't have to compete with the clatterclink of beer bottles and bar chatter, and megaphone-wielding crowd silencer Mysterious John can turn his talents back to kazoo as the band plays on unchallenged. After composing a score to Charlie Chaplin's silent classic The Gold Rush and testing it out on hometown audiences, the old-timey collective has taken the show on the road. Sunday, the Spankers offer two shows at the Castro, spinning ragtime gold to the Little Tramp's Thanksgiving feast of sole. If you're hankering for the real deal, don't worry; the Spankers also hold court at Bottom of the Hill Sunday night.

Spanning the best American music of the last century, the Spankers caress old-time blues in honkytonk howls, country-fry the swing of a bygone time, and weave their way through everything from hula-spiced ballads to lo-fi Spinal Tap covers. The ragtag band of revolving musicians has eschewed amplification (yep, even mikes) ever since their beer-sotted beginnings, letting the natural timbre of banjo, ukulele, washboard, guitar, and dobro speak for themselves. Christina Marrs, the troupe's lonely lady, alternates between belting tributes to the early blues queens and sticky-sweet curlicue cuties. Wammo, master of harmonica and washboard, lends his gritty growl to the fray, joined by various vocal talents within the group.

Of course, given that a fair jiggerful of wackiness has always been poured into their old-time cocktail, it's no surprise that the Spankers have finally put out a drug album. Spanker Madness trains two bloodshot eyes on the beauty of gettin' high. The audience's eyes may be moved to compassionate tears -- and generous herbal offerings -- when the Spanker's recount one of Texas' shortcomings in "It's Dry Down Here." Still, if all the illicit talk makes you nervous, Wammo's ode to fermentation ("Beer") will whet other thirsts: "I've tried them all and it might sound queer, but my favorite drug is a nice cold beer."

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Todd Dayton

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