Humble Grumble

Guzzle It Up!

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"Kurt's Casino," the opening track on Humble Grumble's second AltrOck release, 2013's Guzzle It Up!, sparkles so brightly that you may want to wear sunglasses when listening to the tune. The rhythm is infectious, the vibraphone shines, and the saxophone/bass clarinet accents are upbeat and amiable; it would seem almost a crime to sing along in anything lower than a falsetto -- which, in fact, is what frontman/guitarist Gabor "Humble" Vörös does, at least initially. Add the sunny harmonies of vocalists Megan Quill and Liesbeth Verlaet, whose CD booklet photo shows them wearing matching frilly skirts and over-the-knee socks, and obviously the listener is in for a happy-go-lucky, rollicking good time. By the way, the lyrics are about Kurt blowing his brains out with a revolver. Yes, it appears that Vörös still likes to pair up crazy-fun, head-spinning music with heavy subject matter, as he did when mixing a song about a legacy of battlefield carnage into the generally wackier track listing of Humble Grumble's 2011 AltrOck outing, Flanders Fields. Stay with "Kurt's Casino" a while longer, though, and it becomes more like a phone call to a suicide prevention service as Vörös exhorts "People, listen to the sound, don't play the game/In painful ways/Tonight, the music plays and the fire burns again/Just once again...." and the band takes off into a "Caravan"-esque 13/8 theme with solo features for marimbist Pieter Claus and saxophonist Pol Mareen until everybody picks up the pace and the tempo accelerates like an increasingly frenetic Eastern European circle dance.

It's ultimately invigorating, and in the song's context perhaps life-affirming, but a silly refrain like "Garden hose, garden hose" in the next track, "The Little Man," somehow seems a better marriage of words and music (not to mention Vörös' end-of-song comment: "Thank you very much for listening to my useless reflection/I hope I did not bore you!"). Still, the arrangements throughout Guzzle It Up! -- both instrumental and vocal -- are completely whacked-out. "Accidentally in San Sebastian" initially suggests free-bop jazz accompanying a beat poetry reading; later interludes jump from pseudo rap and looped baby-ish and animal sounds with angelic wordless vocal backing to circular rhythmic aboriginal funk and X-Legged Sally-style tight reed riffing. "The Campfire Strikes Back" is -- what? -- harmolodic car horn-mimicking ska? (It also transitions into fractured swing, pure Zappa vocal hijinks, and back again.) Those who want Vörös to shut up and play his guitar get their wish in the ten-plus-minute "The Dancing Dinosaur," which turns the vocals over to the women and also gives Mareen an opportunity to stretch out over a roomy modern creative jazz arrangement (there's also a bluegrass-style break elsewhere in the song). Then "Skunks" arrives, and Vörös sings about waking up in the morning, his partner by his side, and smelling something stinky when he lifts up the blanket. At least the music isn't stinky in the slightest.

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