Wednesday, May 19, 1999


Posted By on Wed, May 19, 1999 at 12:00 AM

While the Atomic Fireballs may have been the beneficiary of swing music, retro culture and roots music reclamation’s extended stay in our collective cultural consciousness, they neatly sidestep it all with this — I’m just gonna say it now — sick, excitable jump blues slab, Torch This Place. Sick in the dope sense, sick in the fly sense and, yes, sick in the twisted sense. These eight Detroiters acquit themselves admirably over the course of Torch This Place’s varied wallop. Playing with a fiendishly punky energy, the horns and strings — bass, guitar and piano, that is — carry singer-growler John Bunkley along on waves of refitted Louis Jordan, Cab Calloway and, particularly, Fishbone. In fact, from the ecstatic house-party kickoff of "Man With the Hex" through to the make-it-a-double after-hours swoon of "Flower in the Sand," to the hilarity of "Caviar & Chitlins," the Atomic Fireballs distill all of the far-reaching, ecstatic musical roots of smoky rooms filled with sweaty kids across several generations.

If you had the chance to hear the ’Balls’ Birth of the Swerve release, prepare yourself for extra-strength fire. While Swerve was an adequate document, it didn’t come close to capturing the fireworks of the Fireballs live — man, are there a lot of friggin’ fire references in this review! The seemingly incongruous choice of producer Bruce Fairbairn — known for his work with Aerosmith and Chicago — turns out to have been inspired. The horns leap from the speakers with live performance insistence, the 88s pound out rhythm and blues and it all comes together as live as you please — which is where the Atomic Fireballs knock ’em dead first and foremost. Consider the challenge of translation met and conquered.

The Atomic Fireballs have a century of music on their sonic and stylistic palette — Bunkley and company would be fools not to throw it all into the pot and whip the stew around the dance floor. After all, they’re the hosts of the party — it’s up to busboys like me to clean it up and make it presentable for the next potential guests.


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