Record Review - 1 December 12 2001

Veering wildly between genres like an out-of-control sled, Austin's favorite wacky acoustic congregation has fun with traditional holiday fare, even as they deconstruct it. Captured live for its fifth release, the Wammo-led collective romps through an eclectic batch of Christmas covers with a typically unorthodox approach: playing "Silent Night" on a bowed saw; crooning "Blue Christmas" with solo ukulele accompaniment; riding bareback on "Red-Nosed Reindeer Blues" to the tune of Muddy Water's "Mannish Boy" blues.

More yuks can be found on a frolic through "Zat You, Santa Claus?," the leering sexual innuendo of "Trim Your Tree" and a backhanded tribute to Wammo's actual birthday, "12.25.61." Yet between the elbow-in-the-ribs merriment, this remarkably accomplished hot-pickin' band — which includes clarinet and fiddle — swings a dawg-grass arrangement of "We Three Kings" and a spry take on Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy" that's among the most nimble versions of the hoary cartoon classic ever recorded. Meanwhile, Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song," as delivered with a purrdy Judy Garland lounge flair by original Spanker Christina Marrs, wouldn't be out of place on Martha Stewart's stereo.

It's that delicate combination of reverence and cheekiness that makes the ASS so darn lovable. Not afraid to take themselves seriously, yet preferring measured lunacy over unbridled insanity, they supply a spirited, witty and ultimately respectful seasonal album the whole family (well, most of them) will enjoy.

The Asylum Street Spankers play Thurs., Dec. 13, at Smith's Olde Bar.??