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If you haven’t already become familiar with Dance Attic over the past six years, their music is an unabashedly cheery, headlong plunge into corn. They play old-time-style tunes with big smiles, exaggerated twangs, a single guitar and accordion and, Dear God in Heaven, a kazoo.* But we all need a break from our death metal records some time, so if you’re willing, it’ll provide a welcome breather.
Dance Attic is the musical/romantic partnership of Jimi Cooper and Suzi Ludwig, he of high-power rock acts like The Fractals and Dukes of Hubbard, she of the alt-folk band Father Hennepin. (He plays in Father Hennepin, too, but she’s a member going back two decades.)
You might recall The Far Side cartoon in which people who go to heaven get a harp, while people who go to hell get an accordion. We do often think of the accordion as an irritant, especially when it’s used for polka, which Dance Attic dabbles in regularly. In Ludwig’s hands, though, it’s always sweet, often transcendent, and makes the corn palatable. Cooper is an excellent guitarist and even demonstrates skill on the kazoo. (Is there such a thing as skillful kazoo playing? There is now.)
When they came out with their first album in 2017, the mega-light-hearted “Cabin Fever,” the Duluth News Tribune reported the next album “might be darker.” That certainly didn’t pan out. Any darkness here is tongue-in-cheek. By the time you get to the end of the album, they’re singing, “La, la-la, la-la sunshine!” That pretty much captures the whole album.
“We’re on our way to becoming a children’s band,” Cooper joked when he gave me a copy of this CD. That seems especially true of the song (and hilarious video) “I’m Livin' With a Bear,” which can be interpreted as either about a foul-tempered roommate, or just what it says, an anthropomorphic animal.
Things get PG-13, though. The album’s opener, “My Little Pink Wazoo” is just courting arrest if sung to the underaged. “Tax Man (He’s Gonna Getcha!)” will probably scare kids, and some adults, too. “We’re Getting Saucy Tonight” is not dirty like the title implies, but it’s about “saucy” in the sense of getting drunk, followed by the man being sent outside by his domestic partner to sleep with the dog.
“Tax Man” is not a remake of The George Harrison/Beatles song, but seems in the same spirit. Harrison, in 1966 a nouveau riche One Percenter, whined about the British government taking 95 percent of his earnings, though he was still fabulously wealthy.
In Dance Attic’s version, they sing, “He comes around gonna shake you down / Fills his suitcase full then he’s outta town / Well he don’t care for you or me / He’s just evil as can be.” Do they earn enough as local musicians to land in that high a tax bracket? If only.
“We definitely don’t resent paying taxes,” Ludwig said. “In fact, we think people should be proud of paying taxes that support the essential services provided by tax revenues. But it’s still fun to grumble about paying them.” (The liner notes contain a disclaimer, “Dance Attic does not endorse tax evasion, excessive alcohol consumption, or dysfunctional relationship dynamics. Dance Attic does support quality Wisconsin dairy products.”)
The title track, “Livin’ for Today,” is the antithesis to “Tax Man,” being about the evils of money grubbing and careerism. "You make more money and you pile it high / You’re saving it all until the day you die / And then you buy a coffin.” Okay, that is a little dark. But the music is so typically upbeat you won't notice.
“Paid in Time” is another protest against work ethic. It humorously proposes a new economic system that actually makes sense: Why don’t we change the rules / Gotta stop being such doggone fools / Instead of earning money we’ll earn time.”
“Schweaty Lederson” is a broad send-up of polka, complete with the pidgin German and Three-Stooges humor: “Vhy'd she pick on me in my schweaty lederhosen / Choppin' up a tree in my schweaty lederhosen / Bent down and felt the seam let go / OH NO!” It’s no doubt a crowd-pleaser, but I wondered if more serious polka fans might be offended. Cooper assured me polka musicians have a sense of humor. (Actually Cooper and Ludwig are serious about polka themselves, being half, along with members of Woodblind, of Polkarobics. Dance Attic’s first album made me realize Lawrence Welk is cool.)
Some songs are a mix of comedy and pathos. “Bobby’s Buying Tools Again” is about a guy going hog wild buying tools and building things, though why is not clear, other than preparing for something “that’s coming around the bend.” The band informed me it’s based on a friend about to become a father. “Cupola Criminals” is a lament for a decoration stolen from their yard. Verse three echoes my thoughts exactly: “Policeman said what’s a cupola?”
“Waltz Me Across the Floor” is a straightforward romantic dance tune. “From Paris to Poplar” is a humorous ode to the rural community of Poplar, Wis., where the album was recorded. The album reaches perfection with “Stars,” in which Ludwig’s gently swaying accordion music is complemented by Cooper’s catchy ukulele. The album closes with the childishly simple and joyous “Sunshine, Water, Sand,” apparently about Lake Superior’s beaches.
If you’re not in the mood for happy music, you might want to avoid Dance Attic. But if you’re unhappy, that might be all the more reason you need Dance Attic.
*Technically it's a Wazoo, a kazoo with a small attached megaphone.
Dance Attic plays two CD release shows along with Woodblind July 16 & 17 at Wussow’s Concert Cafe.