The Atomic Sherpas are a Los Angeles based guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, trombone, sax, flute, harmonica and vocals sextet who play… well… is Big Band Prog a genre? No? Well I’m making it up then. The music is like a mixture of Zappa, Chicago, Dr Nerve styled RIO Prog, good time swingin’ Blues and tightly structured Free-Jazz. These guys are ADHD antsy and completely unable to stay in one spot for very long, which results in a non-stop stream of compositional twists and turns and a harrowing stylistic roller coast ride.
I really dig songs like Doc Shock, which showcase big band heavy rock with an injection of Soul and a twisted Zappa styled Prog edge. I love the aggressive rock guitar and horns combination which I used to enjoy so much on the old Dr Nerve albums. Ultra-saucy swinging horns and slickly dirty Blues guitar are characteristic throughout. Sco’s Coven reminds me of early Chicago when they were a really hot smokin’ band. But the Sherpas are much more intense, the horns functioning like a guitar arsenal, and when the guitar joins in its freakin’ molten. But the music keeps shifting gears, flitting about like we’re at a compositional gymnastics meet. Painful Therapeutic Process is similar but with an RIO-Prog injection and a dose of fiery Jazz-Fusion. Get Gettin’ Down Down features heavy rocking and good time swinging big band Blues with fun scat vocals. Bronto Awakes rocks and swings hard and includes lots of great ripping guitar, wailing horn and spacey Jazz keyboard solos. And I like the horns, guitar and old time organ combination on the soulfully swinging Alligator Staircase.
Finally, the set is rounded out with two cool covers. I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard Black Sabbath given the kind of treatment the Sherpas give War Pigs. Just re-read all my previous descriptions and you’ll get the idea. It’s clever, good humored, well executed and kicks swingin’ ass. AND it includes a pinch of Gilligan’s Island (HUH, you say? Trust me, ya gotta hear it). And their rendition of Johnny Winter’s Mean Town Blues retains the spirit of Johnny but blasts it into hyper-kinetic big band heaven. This is a seriously fun album. I’ll bet these guys blow the roof off of anywhere they play live.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz