New Orleans based five piece The Good for Nothin’ Band are, despite the relatively clear cut nature of their influences, a glorious hybrid. Rather than contenting themselves with comfortable reworkings of tropes and clichés drawn from the rich tradition of jazz and blues, Jon Rongier and his cohorts have fused often surprisingly poetic and image-filled lyrics with the melodic and highly stylized textures of Dixieland jazz and Delta blues. The singer/songwriter ideals helps these songs flower into much more than backwards looking tributes to American music. Instead, the humor and pathos running through these songs make them feel quite vital and evidence a collective artistic sensibility that wisely decided this form is the best musical vehicle for self-expression. Maniac World features ten songs that express themselves magnificently.
“Fishin’ for Stars” has a musical quality even the great Van Morrison might admire. Roniger’s vocals make great use of the lyrical imagery and dispatches lines with a zest and relish that sweeps listeners up into the song. “DNA” is, in every area, one of the album’s indisputable high points. The Good for Nothin’ Band brings a fully integrated sound to bear – there’s no virtuoso trips hampering the ability of the songwriting and performances to reach their full potential. The band’s considerable humor often comes through, but the band never stresses it too much to the exclusion of the remaining qualities present. This isn’t a gimmick act and these aren’t novelty songs. While it may sound effortless, The Good for Nothin’ Band practically crackle with chops on each cut.
“Fallin’ Out of Trees” comes barreling out of the speakers as a swaggering shuffle with enough musical charisma to catch listeners from the outset. Roniger’s voice, as it so often is on Maniac World, has a joyful and playful quality capable of twisting even the saddest line into something likably boastful. The band gives the album’s listeners their first real taste of the blues with the title song. It isn’t necessarily new artistic ground their breaking in this recitation of the world’s various woes, but their Delta crawl generates a fair amount of tension and certainly invokes a genuinely mournful atmosphere. The song “It Is What It Is” rates as one of the best example included with the album of how The Good for Nothin’ Band has successfully merged the virtues of contrasting light and shade from rock music and incorporated it into their jazz backgrounds. The result is a particularly potent mix on songs like this.
“Lips Like Candy” falls within the same wheelhouse. It might surprise some exactly what sort of muscle the band has a skill for mustering, but any non-believers will be quick converts after hearing this song and its predecessor. “Snowing in New Orleans” underlines the band’s profound sense of place rooted in their songwriting and, again, shows their strengths as storytellers. The arrangement is memorable and Roniger’s voice works in total sympathy with the playing. The preceding songs are merely the best of a very, very fine album. There’s isn’t a single moment of filler or uncertainty heard on The Good for Nothin’ Band’s first album Maniac World and the talent level is so high we may not even hear them miss.