Lesbian duo The Ditty Bops resurrect old-timey jazz with giddy aplomb
The Ditty Bops
“Moon Over the Freeway”
Sounding like the long-lost soundtrack from a Buster Keaton silent movie, The Ditty Bops make music that bubbles with a slapdash energy. Pairing impeccable musicianship with an irrepressibly silly attitude, the Los Angeles duo’s take on ’20s-era jazz is enjoyable, and it’s as contagious as a cold.
Made up of real-life partners Abby DeWald, who plays acoustic guitar, and Amanda Barrett, who plays mandolin, dulcimer and washboard among other instruments, The Ditty Bops first earned notoriety in California, where they became a sensation for their cabaret-like stage shows.
In 2004, the duo released their self-titled debut, earning them national attention, which in turn led to more demand for live performances. After spending the past year on the road, the Ditty Bops have now returned with their sophomore effort, titled “Moon Over the Freeway.” A charming collection of songs that find their niche somewhere in the intersection of ragtime and Western swing, the album puts fun at the forefront, giving the listener an enjoyable time-out from the modern world “Moon Over the Freeway” kicks off with a delightful one-two punch of lively jazz, beginning with the album’s title track. With a tempo intentionally reminiscent of a locomotive engine, the song wonderfully showcases the pair’s respective talents: DeWald’s jazzy guitar work is understated but precise, and Barrett’s harmonies are flawlessly wedded to her partner’s stylish vocals.
Next up comes the swiftly paced “Angel with an Attitude,” which is easily one of the album’s best tracks. Tack piano and slide guitars give the song a bluegrass via Ragtime feel, while absolutely hilarious lyrics do for devilish damsels what “Chicago” did for murderous jazz singers.
The remainder of the record sees The Ditty Bops following the same old-timey jazz formula, with a couple of notable exceptions. On “Aluminum Can,” the duo briefly adopts Eastern European harmonies before plunging back into guitar jazz for the chorus. The serene “Growing Upside Down” finds the pair in a dreamy mood, while a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Bye Bye Love” is notable mostly for how true to the original it remains.
Overall, the Ditty Bops are at their best when they stick to straight jazz, which by any account makes “Moon Over the Freeway” a success. Sweet and whimsical, this charming record is the perfect antidote for a hot summer’s day, and you can expect that it will be dancing a lively soft-shoe in your head for many months to come.
WHERE BECK’S AT
With most musicians, the more you hear from them, the more they define their signature sound. In the case of eclectic hip-pop trickster Beck Hansen, though, the opposite is true.
From dirty blues and white-boy hip-hop to Brazilian beats and acoustic folk, there are few styles that the eclectic Beck hasn’t tackled. True to his reputation, Beck’s 2005 release, “Guero,” was a groovy mash-up of funky bass, hip-hop beats, and the rhythms of the Latino neighborhoods of his native East L.A.
No mere studio shut-in, Beck is even more impressive on stage where familiar recorded arrangements go out the window in favor of weird instrumentations and experimental breakouts. Indeed, if Beck has ever played the same song the same way twice, it was probably an accident. You never know what the mad scientist is going to do next.
Nokia Theater, 1001 Performance Place, Grand Prairie. June 21 at 8 p.m., $39.50. 214-373-8000.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 16, 2006.