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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Ditty Bops have a blast with the past

January 16, 2006|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

They should have asked for a password to get into McCabe's on Friday. It would have fit with the speak-easy vibe of the Ditty Bops. All that was missing was the bootleg hooch, thick cigarette smoke and a police raid.

Principals Abby DeWald and Amanda Barrett had the look -- the former in Prohibition-era gangster suit and fedora, the latter a quasi moll in a casually elegant dress, both wearing black bank-robber masks. With their three band members they made string-band swing that reached to the '30s and beyond, but with twists that brought it to the present, expanding on the charm of their self-titled '04 debut CD.

Friday there was freewheeling hokum with an arty skew, including having two friends lead a "three-minute, two-act musical" titled "Baker's Dozen" (one of many references to it being Friday the 13th) that was actually a ruse leading to the delivery of a birthday cupcake to another friend in the audience. But the music stood on its own -- witty renditions of vintage material ("Harvest Moon" was a given because there was a full moon out; several songs associated with the Boswell Sisters), faux-vintage turns (a la veteran revivalist Dan Hicks, a core influence) and originals that brought it all into a '60s singer-songwriter context. The women's whispery but never cutesy vocals were perfectly complemented by DeWald's snazzy guitar, John Lambdin's Joe Venuti-esque fiddle cascades, Greg Rutledge's pre-talkies piano, Barrett's crisp mandolin and Ian Walker's string bass.

In the '30s, the Ditty Bops might have played at the Hot Club of Paris. In the '60s they might have had a TV variety show. Today it's tougher to find a spot for them, but see them once, you'll want to see them again.

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