JeeZ LaWeeZ

 

Jammin' with JeeZ LaWeeZ

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JeeZ LaWeeZ: A Wise Foolishness

Jeez LaWeez, Jeez LaWeez (Wiggle Room Records)
A Review

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.

Wacky Duds, musical mix part of show

Trio Dresses up, plays originals and crowd favorites

It's not just about the music for the three women who comprise the Albuquerque band JeeZ LaWeeZ. It's also about the band just wanting to have fun.

"Our gimmick is the way we dress. We dress in the wildest colors imaginable," said Katie Gill, who plays rhythm guitar and ukulele. Harvin plays bass, harmonica and percussion.  Amy Blackburn plays violin, viola and mandolin.  Their music is as diverse as the colors of their clothing. "We do a little bit of classic rock and Beatles. We do a J.S. Bach chorale. We do old campy stuff like 1930's jazz." Gill said. "We also do a lot of original stuff.  I wrote one that's a tongue-in-cheek country song, 'Jesus Is Better Than A Boyfriend.'"

JeeZ LaWeeZ will be in concert tonight at the Outpost Performance Space.  The concert will be recorded and some of the songs will be the basis for a live, self-produced CD to be released in the spring.

The trio has been together for about eighteen months. Gill thinks of herself as the glue of the band, bringing in Harvin and Blackburn. Gill had met Blackburn at the Albuquerque Folk Festival some years ago.  They played in a band scramble, then Blackburn joined the Buckarettes, a local Western Swing band of which Gill is an original member.  Gill met Harvin through a harmony workshop that Gill was giving. The workshop continued but eventually only with Gill, Harvin and Blackburn taking part.  JeeZ LaweeZ grew out of that workshop. 

Gill said the band's clothing isn't only about dressing colorfully.  "Sometimes we'll wear footwear on our heads, wear bracelets on our ankles. We get creative with what we wear.  There are a lot of accessories," she said. "We're so crazy looking, but a lot of our fans are wanting to dress like us."  The concert will feature a table of accessories for sale so patrons can dress up like the band. "We feel like we're in a niche that was waiting for us to fill," Gill said.

Seriously Silly

You can’t hardly miss JeeZ LaWeeZ—Amy Blackburn, Katie Gill, and Nancy Harvin—an unabashedly colorful trio of ladies who prize silly fun as much as music. Resplendent in wild outfits complete with gauzy scarves, shiny jewelry, and leggings that have you reaching for your sunglasses, they look like a little girls’ game of dress-up gone laughably awry.

 

The outfits offer a clue to their musical mission: “It sounds ridiculous, but I honestly see this as a spiritual path,” says Harvin (vocals, bass, spoons, harmonica, ukulele, kazoo). “To be joyful, to express it, to remind other people that life is to be enjoyed.”

 

The three got together about a year ago. From the beginning, fun has been the first order of business, and their pleasure in sharing the stage animates their every performance.

 

Their repertoire features a number of entertaining originals, of both the tender and the acerbically funny variety, as well as a back catalogue of personal favorites, from Tom Paxton, J. S. Bach, the Talking Heads, and Elvis Costello to Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, the Troggs, and the great American songbook. “This is the music that’s in our record collections,” says the classically trained Blackburn (vocals, violin, viola, mandolin, percussion, kazoo). “We Jeez-LaWeeZ them.”

 

Do they ever, starting with the stunning three-part harmony that illuminates every song. “We know what our various ranges are,” Blackburn says. “Someone will start singing the melody, and the other two of us just jump on our two harmonies.” They demonstrated their technique during an interview at a local café when a patron asked them to sing “Happy Birthday” to her. Counting off the tempo, they launched into a perfectly formed three-part rendition, much to the entire room’s delight.

 

Under all the silliness and fun, the three have a foundation built on love for the music and one another. “We’ve all come through our own hardships,” says Gill (vocals, guitar, ukulele, banjo, kazoo), referring to the premature death of Blackburn’s husband, Harvin’s years-long illness, and the collapse of her own engagement. “This has been such a healing thing for all of us. We’re all just growing from each other’s friendship and support and the music.”

 

“And developing a whole new love of life when we were close to hanging it up,” Blackburn says, as Harvin chimes in with a mock-silly “I’m going to get all weepy.”

 

That could help explain why they are, as their business card says, “Way more fun than those other bands.”

 

You can confirm that by going to www.jeezlaweezmusic.com, where you’ll find their schedule and contact info, or their Facebook page. Catch them at the Corrales Harvest Festival the last weekend of September, and keep an eye out for their first CD, currently in the works.