Moon Over the Freeway
It's always interesting when "old-timey" music is interpreted by modern players. Sometimes, the traditions are kept tightly intact, guarded like secrets between best friends, while other times they're more like paper boxes, poked and torn at from the inside with broken guitar strings and fingernails so that other styles can stream in. In the case of Abby DeWald and Amanda Barrett of the Ditty Bops, their sophomore album, Moon Over the Freeway, falls nicely somewhere between the two extremes. The music is heavily influenced by Western swing and Andrews Sisters-type harmonies, but there are also hints of tango, '60s pop, and classical, as well as a strong dose of indie rock. DeWald and Barrett (who play the guitar and the mandolin, respectively) both have clear, strong voices that blend well into one another, which adds a kind of sincerity to their quirky, innocent lyrics. Their songs meander about from topic to topic, pausing briefly at over-inflated egos, love, and irreverence with help from a Greg Rutledge-played piano that sounds like it's straight out of a saloon, an insightful upright bass, and plenty of swing. The words are simple, yet smart and insightful. They explore ironies of urbanization ("We'll frolic in the pesticidy grass beneath the smog/Don't got to worry about beestings, don't got to worry about ants/Now's the time to take off our shoes and dance that cartoon dance" in the lap steel country number "Waking Up in the City") and a hurried life ("What are we really rushing towards/Don't ask me that, get out the door" in the fiddle-driven "Get Up 'n' Go") without ever coming across as cynical, or even necessarily opposed to what's happening. Because DeWald and Barrett are observers, not critics, and they're just trying to enjoy what's around them and what their lives are without being ignorant or unaware. And for the Ditty Bops that means tight harmonies, quick rhythms, a little humor, and a lot of swing.