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SQUIRREL NUT ZIPPERS (Buy CDs by this artist)
Roasted Right EP (Merge) 1994
The Inevitable (Mammoth) 1995
Hot (Mammoth) 1996
Sold Out EP (Mammoth) 1997
Christmas Caravan (Mammoth) 1998
Perennial Favorites (Mammoth) 1998
Bedlam Ballroom (Mammoth) 2000
JAMES MATHUS & HIS KNOCKDOWN SOCIETY
Play Songs for Rosetta (Mammoth) 1997
National Antiseptic (Mammoth) 2001
KATHARINE WHALEN'S JAZZ SQUAD
Katharine Whalen's Jazz Squad (Mammoth) 1998
METAL FLAKE MOTHER
Beyond the Java Sea (Moist) 1991

Oh, why the hell not? The increasingly eclectic and eccentric Southeast — Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to pin specific geographical responsibility where it belongs — grew the Squirrel Nut Zippers, musical wackos who turn the clock back to half-past-swingtime on The Inevitable, a rollicking and skillful not-so-big-band platter of almost entirely original hi-de-ho, zip-a-dee-doo-dah and vo-de-oh-do. The tuxedoed septet's entertaining folly rolls down memory lane with Blossom Dearie-meets-Billie Holiday crooning (by banjo-strummer Katharine Whalen) and the less stylized vocal vamping of guitarists Jim Mathus and Tom Maxwell and saxophonist Ken Mosher. Vic Godard, Brian Setzer and other modern nostalgists have tiptoed through these tulips before, but none with the straight-faced charm lofted by this merry bunch of coconuts. A defiant ode to influenza ("La Grippe") is worth the price of admission. "If it's good enough for granddad, good enough for me."

Pushing a good regressive gimmick toward dedicated stylistic fetishism, the Zippers recorded Hot live, down to the vocals, in a New Orleans studio. They haven't covered "Winchester Cathedral," but they're getting there.

Before the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mathus plied his trade in the syllablically consistent Metal Flake Mother, a Carrboro quartet whose Beyond the Java Sea sounds, on the surface, like a dull echo of Superchunk. Generic indie-pop, however, is merely the launching pad for an industriously multifarious effort. Gamely going along with the band's stylistic impulses, producer Lou Giordano documents Metal Flake Mother's skilled and confident forays into grandiose pop ("Dance for Nails"), not-so-grandiose pop ("Matador"), piano balladry ("Open a Vase"), twang-guitar instrumentals ("Moss Howl," "Squash Beetle"), continental drama (the House of Freaks-meets-Nick Cave "Sutpen" and "Safer") and tuneful garage-rock ("Mr. Flavor").

[Ira Robbins]