ARTIST: BOULDER ACOUSTIC SOCIETY

TITLE: PUNCHLINE

LABEL: NINE MILE RECORDS

RELEASE DATE: AUGUST, 2009

BY JOEL OKIDA

Boulder_Acoustic_Society_Punchline.jpgBoulder Acoustic Society has been called a mini-orchestra rather than your basic rock and roll band. They are a lively musical caravan made up of four Colorado-based musicians who burn up stages across the country to many a sold-out venue. The varied backgrounds of BAS allow them to give a kaleidoscopic performance that is impressive, but without any hint of pretension. With Punchline, they transfer some of variety to a digital package. The ambitious nature of the packaging of the CD, although no enhancement to the music nor insightful to the songs (no lyric listings), adds a dimension (literally 3D!) of the band as both poseur and provocateur. It will stand out musically, as well as literally, on your CD storage shelf.

Few groups can cover as much ground instrumentally and material-wise, but BAS carries their own adventurous Americana songbook and give energetic readings from that eclectic repertoire. Stylistically as diverse as an album can get, the songs do take the listener down a winding road. The stops include: an emotional soap box "commentary", a jaunty jig in the gypsy village, a procession of love and leaving, a magical waltz across a dreamscape, leading to a tavern or two to reflect on all that came before. It ends with a sleepless night of confession. (There is also a bonus track at the end that doesn't seem to fit in with the ending scheme.)

All songs are credited to the band on Punchline, but each member gets a beam of the limelight. A song such as the lovely Frog Pajama Waltz allows ace fiddler, Kailin Yong, to show his bowing chops, with Scott McCormick's accordion in able support. Yong comes back to give fiery energy to Give it Away and So Confused; not that he ever really disappears on any cut.* With a sharp jab or subtle irony, they can get you grinning broadly to any number of rollicking up tempo numbers and then cut you off at the knees with a gospel lament like accordion/keyboard player, McCormick's Take My Hand. From there they take that lump out of your throat and boost you up with an inspired tango like Sunset. Drummer Scott Aller has the tough task of keeping the beat and adding the varied percussive elements on the vastly different range of tunes that the band generates. For Aller, coming from a punk and rock background, this is an album that stretches back and forth in time and across musical genres, but he carries the load in good form. Aaron Keim juggles the guitar, ukulele, lap steel, banjo, alto horn and cornet when not posted behind his upright bass and singing. With well-schooled folk, bluegrass and blues licks at his disposal, there is a noticeable presence on many a cut.

One of the last few songs, the old time ditty feel of Burn the Pity of Our Past, reads like a toasting song, a philosophical dirge that seems to smolder with both a spark of sarcasm and an ember of melancholy. The title and closing song, Punchline, reveals in its lyrics, a zen-like theme that seeps in between the quandary of feeling blessed and guilty when dealt the cards of fate.

Some may find the disparity of styles an indication of focus scattered or floundering instead of the ability of a band to cover a very broad range of the musical spectrum to convey not necessarily one practical admonition, but a chunk of life's lessons. The key is that they do it all so well. And there is a punchline at the end.

*Kailin Yong has since left the band to pursue his own musical vision.

Joel Okida is a struggling artist, struggling writer, and struggling musician. It occurs to him that life is all about the struggle. Fortunately, he did not take up acting. However, he's not half-bad as a zydeco dancer and the ability to make a mean gumbo and lovely walnut tortes has gotten him by.