Leslie Spit Treeo

Chocolate Chip Cookies

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To call the Leslie Spit Treeo's stunning, self-produced, two-disc folk-rock epic Chocolate Chip Cookies a "concept album" is perhaps too conventional a term. Several potential plot lines-cum-metaphors-cum-running gags entwine through this byzantine recording, some, yes, involving cookies; the main thread is a semi-autobiographical music industry pastiche chronicling the tribulations of alter-ego the "Spitkins" signing to smarmy label Monee Records, the salvation and resolution inspired by...warthogs. The whole, interspersed with Chipmunks-speed spoken-word snippets that more or less advance (or confuse) the narrative, is worthy of Frank Zappa's wry genius in its combination of self-mockery and pinpoint satire. The project's genesis comes complete with a real-life absurdist slant. Chocolate Chip Cookies was originally released last year in very limited fashion on the group's own Tag Tunes label (Tag, a dog, is also the official label President) in a delightfully inventive faux-cookie bag modeled after Nabisco's Chips Ahoy! brand. The company felt threatened enough by this act of trademark sedition to unleash a phalanx of lawyers threatening full punishment of the law. Marking its first availability since this forced withdrawal, the cookies are now available again -- alas, with more conventional packaging. The tour-de-force turns on Laura Hubert's distinctive vocal performance. Elements of a soaring Celtic diva anchor themselves to the salty, earthy, gravelly wisdom of latter-day Marianne Faithfull. Semi-narcoleptic, sing-along mariachi jangle "Falling Down Again" shares shelf-space with hard-rocking, brass-blasted "Hell or Heaven." The jaunty "Can't Stop" serves as the proverbial melting pot, cascading surf guitars offset by a classical violin break while bells and whistles of every kind detonate throughout like cherry bombs. Cynical ditty "The Single" runs for 20 seconds with the sole line "What if someone wrote a song/And it wasn't very long/But they still called it a single?" (it reprises in "dance remix" form on disc two). "Stuck in the Middle of a Song" acknowledges that middle-class scourge of the '90s, the skipping CDDDDDDDD...Social consciences get a proper tweaking by "Soup Line" and a signature cover of Bob Snider's mournful "Ancient Eyes." Leslie Spit, you make great cookies.