Monday, August 23, 2010

Mad Tea Party Will Move You!

photo by Jonathan Welch
Happy Musical Monday, all! I’m here today to tell you about a band you may not be familiar with but one I think you really should give a listen—it’s the Mad Tea Party out of Asheville, North Carolina, Ami Worthen & Jason Krekel.

First, I must say: I like duos; I spent several years as a musical duo with my wife Eberle & we still perform together some; & I like the uke, & I like good guitar; & I like a band that can go from grungy surf-rockabilly to a lovely, lyrical country waltz in the blink of an eye without anything seeming forced or out-of-place. & I love bands that are impossible to pin down in terms of “genres”—a marketing tool, after all, & not too much more.

The Mad Tea Party doesn’t rely on any one kind of music to get their message across—& more on that message in a paragraph or three. They do use the term “rockabilly” in their self-descriptions, & it’s certainly apt in that rockabilly seems to be their default mode. Also, Jason Krekel, a guitarist who can flat out shred, seems particularly at home with the musical vocabulary of rockabilly. But Krekel is versatile—he’s a virtual one-man band, as he also plays kick drums rigged with special pedals to drive the band; as a guitar player myself, I can assure you this is not easy to do adequately—to do it with the kind of driving pulse Krekel creates is amazing. But his talents go beyond the guitar & drums, because he also plays a mean fiddle—just check out the Mad Tea Party’s rave up version of the old-timey standard “Polly Put the Kettle On” on their most recent full-length release, Found a Reason. This tune is one of the (many) high points of the album: you will never hear the song the same way again & I do mean that in the very best way possible.

Both Ami Worthen & Jason Krekel are composers & singers with talent to spare. Krekel’s voice is strong & resonant (just check out the “Every Way” video below), but he can also deliver a quieter side in a song like Worthen’s composition “Yellow Trees,” where they duet very sweetly on the chorus. “Yellow Trees” may in fact be my favorite song on Found a Reason, but picking just one song & sticking to it after hearing the rest would be hard.

Ami Worthen plays uke (& some acoustic guitar) in addition to singing. “On paper,” as it were, the mix of a soprano uke with Krekel’s heavy guitar sound might not seem promising, but it sure works. Worthen’s a very good uke player who adds all sorts of rhythmic accents to the overall driving pulse.

Photo by Sandlin Gaither
& both Worthen’s songs & singing are delightful & strong. In the press clippings I’ve read, she’s often compared to Wanda Jackson, & there's some validity to this—if you listen to “I Went Out” on Found a Reason, it actually seems spot on. I also hear a bit of Mary Ford, especially on the Mad Tea Party’s amazing 2006 release, Big Top Soda Pop—but, whatever comparisons you might make, the long & the short of it is this: Worthen’s voice is her own, & that’s what makes her a great singer; she can inhabit her voice—it fits her & it fits her music. She has great range & tone, but perhaps most importantly, she has that “other dimension” that some technically proficient singers lack: personality & heart.

In fact, this could be said of the Mad Tea Party itself, which is certainly even more than the sum of its considerable parts. I spoke earlier about “message.” It’s true—& a good thing at that—that much of the Mad Tea Party’s music is about rocking out & having a good time—I imagine they must be a very fun band live (sadly, their tour of the Northwest was in 09 before I knew about them!) But there’s more to their songs. I mentioned “Yellow Trees” before; there’s a mystical turn in that lyric—a love song set in the framework of contemplating death. Now that sounds heavy, doesn’t it? But it’s not, at least not in any pretentious or off-putting way. Also in this vein is their song “Do You Have What It Takes” from Big Top, Soda Pop. Please follow this link to hear this song because I think it’s important to experience this more lyrical side of the Mad Tea Party—both the video songs are upbeat rockers—& also because it may be my favorite song of theirs. It reminds me of something my dear friends in Ed’s Redeeming Qualities might have written—not not so much that it sounds like ERQ, but just in the way that apparent simplicity & light-heartedness can actually get pretty doggone profound. The band's message is a coherent one, it seems to me—perhaps: “life is too serious to be taken seriously,” with full weight on both sides of that statement.

Photo by Scott McCormick
The Mad Tea Party has four full-length albums: Found a Reason (08), Big Top, Soda Pop (06), Flying Saucers (05) & 73% Post Consumer Novelty (all the links are to CDBaby, but the albums are also available thru Itunes—see the band's website). They’re all worth having—the two earlier releases showcase a lot of the band’s roots—which are eclectic & really give an understanding of their sound: everything from 30s novelty tunes to old-time music & more. In fact, they still do some beautiful cover songs—how about a rockabilly send-up of Melanie’s “I’ve Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates” on Big Top, Soda Pop! If you want to buy one for starters—geez, that’s tough. I really like Big Top, Soda Pop a lot, but there’s a lot to like about Found a Reason. I say, you decide—you can’t go wrong either way.

& let’s not forget: the Mad Tea Party also has two EPS: 2009 O Sh*t, It’s Christmastime & this year’s Zombie Boogie.

Here’s hoping there’ll be many more releases from this really talented duo—& I hope they make it back to the Pacific Northwest someday—or perhaps somewhere near you! In the meantime, you can follow them, as I do, on Ami Worthen’s blog, Ukulele Rockstar or on Twitter as @themadtea.


Pix from the Mad Tea Party's Web Site, used with their kind permission


  1. Huh! Interesting. I'll have to look into these guys more. Thanks for the review.

  2. Hi Roy: Please do check them out--they are very good.

  3. Great review. I agree wholeheartedly, especially about the genre-defying aspect of Mad Tea Party. Been following them for years!

  4. Hi Amanda: Thanks! I'm a recent follower, but am very taken with their music. Thank you for stopping by.

  5. Interesting to see someone so taken with Mad Tea without having seen them live, because live, they are an IRRESISTIBLE FORCE!

  6. Hi Laurie: I imagine that must be true, because there's a lot of energy in those albums. Thanks for stopping by!


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