Whatever it Is I’m Against It, the new Jim Wake & Sleepwalker CD (their third), features fifteen tunes that push boundaries and defy easy description, ranging from a couple of rollicking rockers to a conspiratorial torch song to stripped down blues. The mood meanders from nostalgia to absurdity with stops along the way for social commentary, redemptive optimism, and ironic fatalism. Front man Jim Wake, who moved to the Netherlands from the US twenty years ago, has been reconnecting with his American roots; Ruud Fransen has been reflecting on his mortality; Egbert Kemner laments hopeless love. On six of the tunes, the band is joined by The Push-Up Brass. Fourteen of the fifteen tunes are original compositions. The one cover is the contrarian title number Whatever it is I’m against it, a tune first offered up to movie audiences 80 years ago by the Marx Brothers that still resonates with a certain breed of anarchist rock and rollers.
Jim Wake & Sleepwalker have been playing an elusive blend of blues, roots music, and good old rock and roll since 1994. Even then, they were seasoned musicians just looking for a break. Eighteen years later, they’re still hoping. Clearly then, they’re not in it for the money. This is a band that plays what it loves and lets some one else worry about what to call it. If it swings, if it sings, if it pulls at your heartstrings or just gets you thinking – that’s where it all begins.
It helps that they don’t take themselves too seriously. They season the old themes of love and loss, treachery and abandonment, hard times and cruel women with a healthy dose of irony, and twist forms as varied as country, Americana, gospel and tango to their own not altogether innocent purposes.
Jim Wake has an abiding passion for old time blues, bebop jazz, and the lyric that tells a story and reveals a barbed or poignant truth. He sings in a melodic growl, writes a goodly portion of the tunes, and plays rhythm guitar and blues harp. Arnoud van Buuren pounds the keyboards and squeezes sounds both sublime and profane from the guts of his accordion. Egbert Kemner’s guitar wails, weeps, slashes, and if it never quite burns, it does often smolder as he weaves his leads in, out, over, under and around the tunes. And then there’s Konstantin Iliev, honking, screaming, caressing, and provoking with his tenor sax. Eelco Flapper on drums and percussion, and Ruud Fransen on bass have accepted the unenviable responsibility to maintain a semblance of order and discipline during the proceedings.