Eclectic Only Begins To Describe New Chandler Travis Philharmonic CD

By: Rob Conery

The Chandler Travis Philharmonic. From left, Bob Pilkington, Fred Boak, Matt Joseph, Chandler Travis, Berke McKelvey, Cliff Spencer, John Clark. CLIFF SPENCER PHOTO


The Chandler Travis Philharmonic's “Waving Kissyhead Vol. 2 & 1” was soft-released late in 2016. The official album release party is set for Saturday, Feb. 18 at Preservation Hall in Wellfleet. The 17 tracks are, not surprisingly, all over the map. But in a good way. By design.

One standout track is “The Strongman of North America (bedhead remix).” Co-written with frequent Travis collaborator David Greenberger, the song seemed familiar to me. I knew I had heard it before, but that's because it was on Travis and Greenberger's 2015 release “Bourbon & Bocce”—which also includes such pretty songs as “When the Roses Shine in Picardy” and “(You and Me) Pushin' Up Daisies.”

The bedhead remix is a bouncy, sprinkling romp – it also seems something of a motif for the album. Internal photos feature Travis and the band sporting messed-up heads of hair. In the bedhead photos, taken individually, Travis looks confused and surprised, Fred Boak looks wild and erratic, Greenberger looks wary, sleepy and intellectually bored, and Sam Wood looks like he just woke up with a terrible hangover.

The band – fittingly for this type of electric-acoustic swamp music that veers wildly from arrhythmic gibberish to spoken word vamps to pure New Orleans horn-driven delirium tremens to sorta-semi-straight rock songs – is a sprawling collective.

No fewer than 18 musicians are listed in the liner notes.

Just the ones listed on the album are Rikki Bates on drums, Fred Boak on vocals (and singing lead on “Make Yourself Happy”), Dinty Child on mandocello and accordion, John Clark on string bass, Berke McKelvey on clarinet, saxophone and keyboards, Mike Peipman on trumpet, Bob Pilkington on trombone, Cliff Spencer on keyboards, and Sam Wood on drums. Chandler plays Chandler.

It's hard to tell which song is which (that may only be attributable to my old and creaking computer), hard to tell where Volume 2 ends and Volume 1 begins (and how their running order was reversed and why), hard to tell how much of this is meant to be a joke (and just who that joke is on). It's hard to tell a lot of things about this album. But it's easy to tell this: there is quality here, a rich, diverse listening experience awaits the sonically adventurous.

“Air Running Backwards” is another Travis-Greenberger composition. Its dulcet chord changes are warm and reassuring, with piano notes dancing in and out of the mix, updated from Travis' solo LP “Ivan in Paris.”

“Going to Work Tomorrow” starts as a scratchy rocker with growling bass. Horns pop up and prop up the middle parts. One track is just titled “E.” Another is called “Untitled.”

A January piece posted on WBUR's website (the radio station at Boston University, which Travis attended in the 1960s) called Travis a “quirk rocker” who doesn't come off as crazy so much as “gently unhinged.”

Travis has released something like 50 albums over the years – with Travis & Shook, with the Incredible Casuals, as a solo artist, with the Philharmonic, with the Chandler Three-O, and various iterations of the aforementioned.

Legions of people still miss Sundays at the Beachcomber, where the Incredible Casuals were the happy hour band for decades.

I first became a fan in 1991 when Travis played a fundraiser at Cape Cod Community College. It was a Stop the Outfall Pipe (STOP) benefit concert. Travis came out solo with an acoustic guitar. He was likely barefoot, but I don't recall exactly. He strummed a few chords and deadpanned, “Fools.....why did you come here? Didn't you know there would be.....[dramatic minor chord] folksingers.” Big laugh from the full house and one new fan in the back, still too young to get into the Beachcomber, but interested nonetheless in this talented goofball.

I've seen Travis play any number of times since, with all manner of bands. It's never dull.

Philharmonic shows in particular exemplify that tight but loose flow with Travis benignly at the controls.

“Waving Kissyhead Volumes 2 & 1” is a fitting smorgasbord entry point into this sprawling, fun music.

You want Dixieland jazz? You got it! Music you can dance to? Here it is. Fun, quirky lyrics? Check. Demonstratively, undeniably talented musicians? Here, and by the dozen!

The disc even comes with a promotional tube of lib balm (presumably in the event you plan to kiss any waves, or wave kisses at heads, or something). Nothing makes sense, and that's half the point.

“Waving Kissyhead Vol 2 & 1” by the Chandler Travis Philharmonic is a fun record. Perfect for long drives, short stays, or your next weight-lifting adventure.

Album was officially released on Feb. 10and there is a record release party planned for Preservation Hall in Wellfleet at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 18.

Other upcoming shows include a Mardi Gras Benefit in Somerville on Feb. 24 and a special 5 p.m. show at the Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain on Feb. 26.