From New York, Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches have a sound that is, well, unique. The band is built around Nick Russo (all manner of banjo and guitars, vocals) and lead singer/guitarist Betina Hershey. Add David Pleasant’s drums, harp ,and vocals, and additional vocal contributions from Miles Griffith, then add doses of unusual scat singing from the Gullah-Geechee culture, and some down-home New Orleans jazz chestnuts. The combination is at times cluttered and unfocused, but it’s unlike anything most listeners will find elsewhere.
Very Next Thing offers ten tracks, mostly covers of jazz vocal standards. Tracks like “Freight Train” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” are mostly notable for Hershey’s clear-as-a-bell swing jazz vocals. On “You Are My Sunshine” and “Jock-a-Mo,” Griffith joins on vocals for call-and-response and scatting, add West African-feel percussion, and the flavor of the tunes turns from clever jazz to an Island music/blues hybrid. The two singers are so mismatched that these songs take some getting used to.
“I’m Gettin’ Married” motors along on some blazing banjo picking, all about how wedded bliss means “Now my sin is perfectly legal.” Even better is Hershey’s “I Don’t Believe in Love.” Full of double entendre and good humor, it is the best track here. While the disc is full of elaborate arrangements, the band sounds best when just guitar, banjo, and Hershey’s arresting vocal takes on a classic like “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”