Sometimes there's a thin line between tribute and parody, and Austin's acoustic Asylum Street Spankers walk that line with more grace and dignity than most. On their debut album, the Austin-based collective borrows classic jug band instrumentation, vocal mannerisms, and in some cases even repertoire, imbuing songs like Lucille Bogan's "Shave 'Em Dry" and Robert Johnson's seminal blues "If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day" with both authenticity and irony. For the most part, it works well, largely due to the fact that the Asylum Street Spankers know when to go for camp appeal and when to play it straight. The contributions of co-frontman Wammo take the former route, with originals "Lee Harvey" and "Startin' to Hate Country" dependent on humor for their effectiveness; covers of pop standards "I'll See You in My Dreams" and "Brazil" are less affected. More surprising is the album's emotional range. How many groups could get away with sequencing a whimsical ode to marijuana ("Funny Cigarette," which succeeds based on its attention to vaudevillian detail, even though the band bettered it in 2000 with "Beer," which was essentially a rewrite) back to back with a darkly earnest glimpse at the underbelly of small-town America (Guy Forsyth's devastating "Hometown Boy")? Not many, and that boldness is the greatest strength of Spanks for the Memories, an album that's among the rawest yet most nuanced in the group's catalog. The 2002 reissue adds "Drunkard's Wave," a lurching barroom anthem, and "Black Eyed Blues," a comic tale of revenge that slyly echoes the bawdy early blues numbers the band holds dear.
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AllMusic Review by Kenneth Bays