As musical tributes go, this new disc from Austin's vaudevillian all-stars is a stone-cold smoker. Twelve of the recording's thirteen tunes focus on the same verdant theme -- marijuana -- the apparent herb of choice for the Spanking gang. Such a heady theme might seem burned out if it were being offered by one more reggae act or yet another spliff-core band. However, the Asylum nuts -- whose live shows have always included an ode or two to Cannabis Sativa -- mate the subject matter with a keenly performed, vintage sound that's usually associated with corn whiskey, not kind bud. The band rolls its winking, stony tributes in jug-band jump, back-porch acoustic blues and string-band sounds, recorded to bare-bones perfection by guitarist David Leroy Biller. And the tunes are fired up with skill and sass, highlighted by the Billie Holliday-esque vocals of Christina Marrs and the harmonica work of co-frontperson Wammo.
The result is one musically rich, hilarious platter, enough to lead even not-holding types to consider heading out for a pack of Jokers and a pinch from the fellas down the street. Song titles such as "High As You Can Be," "Knock Myself Out," "Wake & Bake," "It's Dry Down Here" and "Amsterdam" ("Hot damn, I'm in Amsterdam!") make it clear which side of the reefer issue these folks crash on. The smoke-cough-inducing lines in some of these songs alone are enough reason to score this disc. In "Gettin' High," vocalist Korey Simeone outlines his lush-life passions: "Roll a big doobie/Watch Scooby-Dooby" or maybe "Bake some brownies and play backgammon/Pick up my fiddle and start to jammin'." The band balances its pleasure-seeking with a few pointed stabs of take-it-or-leave-it politics. "Take the Heat" asks who is being protected by the "vicious crime" of possession of marijuana; "Winning the War on Drugs" is a giddy "Ghost Riders in the Sky" send-up that wonders, "If there's a war on drugs, how come they're all around?" and features a chorus of "Praise the Lord and pass the bong/We're winning the war on drugs." Granted, such sentiments won't win this disc any favor with drug czar General Barry McCaffrey. But that non-inhaling boss of his just might enjoy a hit or two of this offering.