If you assume based on The Blues Orphans' name that the band is a standard blues outfit, you're missing out.
"It's transformed over the years from us playing blues and country, to jazz, blues and country, and it's really just mixed down," says harmonica player Andy Gabig, who's been with the band since it got its start in 1979. "Like America started out with Polish, German, black, white — it's all mixed down. I've always called what we play ‘Americana' because of that."
Gabig's brother, Bob, the band's singer and main songwriter, decided to call The Blues Orphans' latest album Hystericana — because it's a mix of all-American stuff and, well, comedy.
"It's always kind of a little sarcastic," says Andy, in an understatement.
Bob, something of a technophobe, fit no less than three songs that are critical of technology onto the new full-length ("Smart Phones, Dumb People"; "Text Myself"; "Shoot My Radio" — though the latter two might be more critical of the users than of the machines). "He's never been that tech-savvy," Andy says with a laugh.
Bob writes in the style of an observational comic; he'll pick an idea or a trend that's relatable, and go to town. In one song, the narrator is jealous of Anderson Cooper's sex appeal; in another, he's complaining about his woman spending all her time (and money) at the River Casino. (It's funny both in its subversion of traditional blues gender roles and its name-dropping of the gem of the North Shore.)
The honky-tonk sound is ratcheted up by the fact that the band, learning that its bass player couldn't take part in this recording project, took on a tuba player, Roger Day, as a replacement. The sloppy, down-home feel of a tuba holding down what's usually the province of a clean-stringed bass does wonders. The rest of the horn section — led by longtime trombonist and local jazz legend Nelson Harrison — fills out the tunes as well.
Harrison, says Andy, helps on a number of levels. For one, he's a well-known name around town. But beyond that, Andy says, "He adds a lot of flair into the show — visual effect."