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Album Review

Hazmat Modine's first album, 2006's Bahamut, earned a placing in the Billboard blues chart. Five years later, the band's second, Cicada, might be more appropriately slotted in the magazine's traditional jazz chart. Truthfully, however, Hazmat Modine present an eclectic mixture of roots styles that is nearly beyond category. Bandleader Wade Schuman sings in an expressive adenoidal tenor and fronts a group dominated by both familiar and less frequently employed horns (Joe Daley plays sousaphone and tuba) in what might be called a "Ry Cooder meets the Dirty Dozen Brass Band" manner. But that's only the core of the sound, which also includes other unusual instruments and found sounds. The instrumental "In Two Years," for example, combines a haunting trumpet refrain, odd percussion, and the sounds of fireworks. Schuman can turn to traditional blues, as he does on "Buddy," which has a "St. James Infirmary" feel to it, and to conventional old-school R&B, on "I've Been Lonely for So Long." But even on such tracks, he changes things up, letting the horns weave in and out as he sings in a mannered, slightly tongue-in-cheek style, like Tom Waits in a higher key. The danger with such self-consciously mixed-up revivalist music is of course that it can come off as something of a joke, but Schuman and company are too accomplished as players for that; they are having a lot of fun, not just being funny. No wonder they have attracted prominent guests like Natalie Merchant, who blends into the group vocals on "Child of a Blind Man," and the Kronos Quartet, who make of the closing track, "Dead Crow," a hybrid of country hoedown and contemporary chamber music.


Genre: Blues

Years Active: '00s

New York-based folk group/ethnomusicology experiment Hazmat Modine draw from a wide array of influences and time periods. Performing music from the '20s through the early '60s, including genres such as swing, klezmer, hokum jug band, blues, rocksteady, and more, the dual harmonica-fronted band has earned a reputation as fearless world music alchemists. Founder Wade Schuman was brought up in Ann Arbor, MI, a city known for its music scene, before relocating to New York. His mastery of early blues...
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