The Ditty Bops, Moon Over The Freeway (Warner Bros., 2006)

Girlfriends Abby DeWald and Amanda Barrett had been together for quite some time before the thought of starting a band ever occurred to them. Thankfully the idea stuck, as The Ditty Bops' sophomore effort Moon Over The Freeway contains some of the most catchy, melodic, and singable material I've heard in years. DeWald (vocals and guitar) and Barrett (vocals and mandolin) largely embrace musical styles from the early part of the last century, combining ragtime and Hot Club jazz with more familiar folk rock. They also benefit from a strong supporting cast, including veteran producer Mitchell Froom and drummer Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello's Attractions, but most especially from some rollicking piano playing from Greg Rutledge. The Bops themselves provide clever lyrics, infectious melodies, and some truly sublime two-part vocal harmonies.

Most of the songs on Moon Over The Freeway have a gentle swing to them, including the brilliant single "Angel With An Attitude," which subtly and sarcastically lampoons people exploiting others in the name of religion. The album has plenty of other gems as well. The ominous "Aluminum Can" uses abrupt tempo shifts to great effect. "In The Meantime" evokes the fiddling of Django Reinhardt's long-time partner Stéphane Grappelli. On the joyously upbeat "Get Up 'N' Go," Dewald and Barrett sing about finding and taking advantage of any excuse to go off on an adventure. "Nosy Neighbor" makes fun of being overly curious about what's going on next door. With the final song, "Your Head's Too Big," the Bops playfully warn somebody to be a bit less self-absorbed around them.

Unfortunately I missed The Ditty Bops' recent tour, for which they traveled from city to city on bicycle. Their live shows have a reputation for crazy pranks and multiple costume changes -- they've been known to perform in pirate outfits, for example. Still, their shows wouldn't be that interesting if they couldn't back up their act with some good songs, and there are a bunch of really good ones on Moon Over The Freeway. The Ditty Bops sing well, they harmonize beautifully, they're clever, they're funny, and they're fiendishly catchy. In other words, they're the full package.

Overall grade: A

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