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Group Dance Epidemic
Brave Combo
Rounder Records

It's always been easy to miss (or misapprehend) Brave Combo's point, so unfamiliar are we with bands that actually have one. Many who prefer a more reflexive, less thoughtful approach to music--just rock me, dude!--are put off by the group's sometimes-studied eclecticism.

In its quest to prove that all music is really just one music, BC sometimes plays right into this perception, slathering an album in so many different kinds of music--klezmer, norteno, polka, cha-cha--that the average bear can't get a fix on them. The more unified albums--like the Kiss of Fire collaboration with Lauren Agnelli or Polkas for a Gloomy World--are more easily absorbed. Group Dance Epidemic is one of the smorgasbord efforts, but there's a cohesive theme behind the global mix.

Inspired by a recent spate of popular group dances--"The Achy Breaky" and the dreaded "Macarena," to name but two--the band has presented a sampler of the music for the great group dances of the pop era--"The Hokey Pokey," "The Bunny Hop," "The Hustle"--traveling from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean and back again.

"We wanted to put out a fun, functional, all-dance album that you could put on at a party and then leave on," explains BC percussionist Joe Cripps. In fact, the band--making no bones about its mission--first wanted to call the album Exciting and Educational Tool, but Rounder execs nixed the title. "I guess the word 'educational' scares off people who buy music," Cripps says. As usual, the Combo can't help but point out odd intersections and similarities, as when they graft together "Limbo Rock" and "Hand Jive" or Van McCoy's "The Hustle" and "Walk on the Wild Side."

By definition, group dance songs are well known, polished by years of popularity, and better suited to movement than careful listening; this may be a problem for some who feel that they've heard "Limbo Rock" quite enough already, thank you. The band seems to realize this, however: "Limbo Rock" quickly segues into a perky "Hand Jive" (a welcome change from the anesthetized Eric Clapton version usually heard), and the highly suspect "Hokey Pokey"--a traditional Combo show-closer--is redeemed by a surging treatment akin to Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer."

Each song has the dance steps associated with it explained in the CD booklet, which also offers succinct yet tantalizing informational tidbits about the roots of each number: is the "Hokey Pokey" a modern hit invented in an Idaho ski lodge, or is it a British dance with its roots in ancient Druid fealty ritual? There's probably less difference than you'd think, and therein lies the point.

--Matt Weitz

 
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