Thanks to vintage cartoons from the 1920s and 1930s, many a young person has gotten their first taste of Dixieland, jazz and swing without even realizing it. This was no more so the case than with the animated output of Fleischer Studios, whose most famous characters were Betty Boop and Popeye.
Like those aforementioned little kids, guitarist Gary Lucas was bitten by the same bug at an early age. So as someone with the kind of talent that’s allowed him to go from being a sideman to avant bluesman Captain Beefheart, provide a springboard to Jeff Buckley, and record everything from Chinese pop to psychedelic folk with Peter Stampfel, Lucas threw himself into these unique compositions that appeal to kids of all ages. Helping with the instrumental heavy lifting are trombonist Joe Fiedler, reedman Jeff Lederer, acoustic bassist Michael Bates and drummer Rob Garcia.
Lucas’ secret weapon is Sarah Stiles, a Tony Award-nominated veteran who has appeared in Hand to God and Avenue Q. With her perky vocals, she perfectly embodies Boop and Popeye paramour Olive Oyl in numbers like the former’s signature song, the clarinet-goosed “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-a-Doop Away.”
Elsewhere, Stiles croons her way through suavely rendered “Penthouse Serenade” while Lucas’ 1946 Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar and Lederer’s sublime woodwinds provide sublime accompaniment before giving way to a warbling outro. Elements of klezmer, Tin Pan Alley and show tunes are liberally sprinkled throughout, be it the herky-jerky phrasing Stiles provides to the wonderful toe-tapper “The Broken Record,” the sultry “I Want a Clean Shaven Man” (which contains a snippet of the familiar “Popeye the Sailor Man” refrain), or the brisk “Little Pal,” which proves to be a nice showcase for Lucas’ fleet-fingered picking.
Fleisherei winds up being a sweet stroll down memory lane while still managing to wield a contemporary edge to it.
Gary Lucas will be appearing with Jann Klose on June 17 at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St. NYC. For more information, visit www.joespub.com or call 212-239-6200.