JeeZ LaWeeZ may appear to be a musical group, but in fact, they are a self-professed spiritual path to enlightenment disguised as a hugely talented and outrageously silly trio of musicians—Amy Blackburn (violin, viola,
mandolin, kazoo, vocals), Katie Gill (guitar, ukulele, kazoo, vocals), and Nancy Harvin (harmonica, bass, percussion, vocals). They write memorable tunes and rearrange your favorites from the ’60s through the ’80s in unimaginable ways. (Ever hear “I Got You [I Feel Good]” with the horn section replaced by a kazoo section?)
I first stumbled into a JeeZ LaWeeZ gig in Corrales a couple of years ago, was absolutely charmed, and have been following them ever since. Resplendent in wildly colorful and
mismatched outfits, they look like a little girls’ game of dress-up gone wrong. They’ve built up quite a following in the last couple of years, and after a couple of false starts, they have finally released their eponymously titled debut album.
Originally intended to be recorded live in concert, the album was instead recorded live (mostly) in the Wall of Sound Studios after illness canceled the concert twice. Producer John Wall fought against the live-in-the-studio approach but ultimately gave in (mostly) to the ladies’ desire to capture the energy of their live performances.
Despite their best efforts, the album doesn’t quite do that—I’m not sure any recording could. You might as well try to bottle sunshine—but it does faithfully reproduce their imaginative
rearrangements, off-kilter originals, stunning three-part harmonies, and spirited hijinks.
With a repertoire that stretches from J. S. Bach to James Brown, the ladies had a lot to choose from for the album. The covers they chose showcase their multifaceted talents. There’s an earnest take of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” that features the choral loveliness of Gill’s soprano. Their audacious take on David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” makes you ask, “How do they do that ?” I don’t know, and I’ve seen them do it several times, though on the album, I think they get a small assist from the board. For sheer foolishness, you’ve got their swinging, a cappella take of “Snap! Crackle! Pop!”—yeah, the Rice Krispies jingle. It’s a high point of three-part fun. Tom Petty’s “Yer So Bad” and the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” don’t quite capture the edge that their live
performances give these tunes, but the rocking goofiness of “Wild Thing” comes through loud and clear.
Speaking of jingles, their inspired “JeeZ LaWeeZ Jingle” opens the album and closes it. The finale catches them trying to get this short little a cappella ditty right, and it takes several tries—in part because they keep breaking up with laughter.
Their well-crafted originals include Blackburn’s rocking summer radio hit “This Groove,” and her grown-up ballad “Time Enough.” In a country-western mood, Gill contributes the hysterically
irreverent “Jesus Is Better Than a Boyfriend” (“He’ll do all the laundry, then he’ll wash away your sin”) and the sensitive longing of “Just Me and the Moon.” Nancy Harvin’s humorous “No Mo’ ” chronicles the impact that the singer’s unspeakable (and unspoken) act has on her social life, and her “Little White Lies,” her wise, wry take on Southern social niceties, has become something of an anthem for the group.
In an interview a couple of years back, we were talking about the trio’s delightfully absurd
costumes, their goofy energy onstage, and their uncommon repertoire. “It sounds ridiculous, but I honestly see this as a spiritual path,” Harvin said. “To be joyful, to express it, to remind
other people that life is to be enjoyed.” Their album captures that in spades.
You’ll be able to find the album on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon, and other sites soon, and of course, it will be on hand at gigs. I recommend that if you haven’t caught these ladies live, check out their calendar to find a gig and get on down there. You’ll feel better for it, and you can grab a CD and get back on the path at home, as needed.
© 2014 Mel Minter. All rights reserved.