It's pretty easy to dismiss the bulk of neo-swing acts as sentimental revivalists, especially when the biggest hits to surface from the swing revival so far have either hinged on historic themes ("Zoot Suit Riot") or been hands-down covers of yesteryear's favorites ("Jump, Jive and Wail"). For all the noise about the rebirth of the big band, modern acts have done little more than exhume long-dead musical bodies.
However, the Cherry Poppin' Daddies break away from the return-to-1940 vibe with Soul Caddy. Dabbling in everything from outright rock to Jamaican soul, the Daddies use a big-band setup as a tool rather than a constraint. They've got more spunk, more sense of adventure and more life than nearly every other swing act on the scene. Songs like "Stay, Don't Just Stay (If You're Gonna)" and "Diamond Light Boogie" mix the propulsion of swing beats and rabbit-punch bursts of brass with grimy rebel-rock guitars to give the jumpin' jive sound a much-needed facelift. Even the band's least characteristic (and most interesting) tune, "Soul Cadillac," which features a rolling beat and plaintive delivery reminiscent of mid-'60s Jamaican R&B sendoffs, triumphs the band's departure from all stylistic restrictions. The swing element is there, Daddio, but it's held firmly in check by a desire to shake things up a bit.
Soul Caddy does have its share of predictable tracks, though. At times bandleader Steve Perry indulges in deader-than-Glenn Miller songwriting and settles into a groove so stale his grandparents would approve. Songs like "Swingin' With Tiger Woods (The Big Swing)" and "So Long Toots," match dated lyrical checks -- who sings about Dean Martin these days, anyway? -- with equally dusty styles. The Daddies' weaker moments aren't confined to old-fashioned clunkers, however, as proved by "God Is a Spider," in which the band gets overly carried away by its own rock vibe.
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Still, a handful of half-baked tracks aren't enough to eradicate the positive aspects of Soul Caddy. Though the Cherry Poppin' Daddies like to swing, they're not obsessed with doing so. This is good news for those who prefer their nostaligia in small doses and their music modernized.