Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2014 September 03 • Wednesday

I'll buy just about any mid-century instrumental guitar record, in the hope that I'll find something half as good as this record, which I picked up at San Diego's Nickelodeon Records.

The Fabulous Jokers were, according to the liner notes, a Belgian band that won a National Television Contest in Belgium.

Side A starts with "Humoresque", a classical piece that I used to play on the violin. It gets a tough, staccato treatment here. Next is a tune called "Diamond Strings", which has a peasant folk dance quality to it, combined with a really catchy hook.

These kinds of records are often interesting because of what covers get included. I can't remember ever hearing a surf/instro band do "Perdido" before, but here it is! And it's great, with a dynamic guitar sound, clear and shimmering.

From there we go to the theme from Black Orpheus, common enough in the jazz world, but less familiar in this scene. It's done slowly, not as a bossa, curiously enough, and with a wordless chorus adding an eerie atmomsphere.

"Instant Coffee" is one of the band's original compositions. It's appropriately peppy, equal parts surf and hot rod.

The first side ends with the theme from The Third Man, a much-covered classic. The Fabulous Jokers use a 12-string guitar to create something close to the zither's unique sound. They play the tune very well, very respectfully.

The B Side starts with "Caravan", perhaps the most-covered song of this genre. These guys do it with the otherworldly wordless chorus adding a spooky effect. The lead guitarist does a great job with the melody and soloing.

This is followed by the Chuck Berry classic "Memphis", another familiar choice. Nobody beats the original, though, and while The Fabulous Jokers do a good job, especially the drummer, who sounds huge here, this might be the least interesting track on the record (though bringing back the 12-string was an inspired choice).

The next tune is another original. "Addis-Abeba" is a very Ventures-like number with an alternatingly growling and singing lead guitar sound.

After this comes, of all things, "Down by the Riverside". The 12-string guitar comes on strong and the other three band members create a massive wall of rhythm to back it up. Another unusual choice.

"Saturnus" is apparently an original number, more of a lounge piece, The Ventures in space with a touch of Esquivel. Some bits of it are startlingly chirpy but on the whole it's quite nice, with a subtle use of organ.

Things come to a close with the original "Greyhound Express", a surprisingly jazzy number. This is one versatile group with a great sound. I'd love to hear more from them!