Smile, and be nice to Strangers

All in the Family
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  August 8, 2012

JUST SAY NOGAR They’ve got a rare assembly of instruments, and a very appealing sound that is very clean and embraces its inherent anachronism.

I'd recommend the Nogar Family Band fairly unequivocally, even if only because you really haven't heard this arrangement of instruments before. Generally, anything in the old-timey/folk/pop/jazz realm the NFB inhabit has at least either a guitar or a piano, and probably a bass.

The Nogars, on their seven-song debut album Family of Strangers, have none of the above. Justin Berth's baritone sax is the foundation, taking the place of the stand-up bass (as you've maybe heard a tuba do), often riding on the 2 and the 4. But Berth also solos more than most stand-up players would, and in those times the band are a little like acoustic, ramshackle Morphine.

Except that the vocals supplied by Dan Nogar are the polar opposite of Mark Sandman's, a jaunty, vaudeville/Broadway kind of delivery that feels like he's always got a shit-eating grin on his face, possibly for no good reason. He's also mic'd by Milkman's Union drummer Peter McLaughlin in his recording set-up at One Longfellow Square (as studio) completely straight, with no room echo or reverb, so it's crisp and immediate.

Couple that with chunked rhythm from the mandolin and ukulele and a distantly mic'd drum set (played with mallets?) — even a tap solo from Kelly Nogar in one song — and everything in the arrangement is crisp and staccato. There's no ringing or sustain, so notes shoot right by you, and the many and varied all-stops are a clenched fist.

It's a very palate-cleansing experience. When Abriel Ferreira supplies melody with the trumpet, it's actually not far from early Orleans jazz. But, as with those early recordings of Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five, it can sound a little quaint, and, having been created this year, anachronistic. You're going to have to get over that.

"Old Green Snake" is the most topical, a 99-percenter take on the modern fascination with money: "I need a handful of green dollar bills/so I can sleep at night." Delivered as a country tune by the Mallett Brothers, it would be pretty spot-on, I bet. With the jauntiness, though, I personally felt like I was being mocked. As though, "I bet there are sad saps that really feel like this."

I'm almost positive that's not how it was intended, but I'm putting that out there. It's a stray-cat-strut, and I always thought the Stray Cats were a put-on, too.

This works better with the cynical "Die a Little Death," which is "the only way to love," as the sax solos and the mandolin pops a rhythm behind. It's like They Might be Giants wearing styrofoam hats and Mark Twain's pants. The trumpet break needles and jabs wonderfully and the air somehow feels muggier by the half-way point.

"Dancing Shoes" could have been written by Kurt Baker, where a doctor has prescribed nothing other than dancing as "the only way to chase away the blues." The double-barrel melody from the sax and trumpet here is a game of dodgeball and that tap-dance solo definitely makes you pick your head up.

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Related: Strange world, Review: Cure For Pain: The Mark Sandman Story, Meeting ‘Strangers’ at Fryeburg’s Pace Galleries, More more >
  Topics: Music Features , Strangers, Mark Sandman
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