The Cucumbers

REVIEW: The Cucumbers “Old Shoes”


The Cucumbers – Old Shoes

This is a short walk down memory lane for me. I remember seeing this band in Hoboken back in the early 80s when I had lots of brown hair & I weighed less than 200 lbs. It must have been Hoboken’s famous venue Maxwells. And they were from the “neighborhood.” It was a great time because certain areas of the country were becoming hotbeds of talented artists.

The Cucumbers

Athens, GA had their babies: R.E.M., Widespread Panic, the Indigo Girls, the B-52s, the Drive-By-Truckers & producer/singer Bruce Baxter.

But Hoboken was also at that time a developing musical nation with The Cucumbers & also the Bongos, Richard Barone, Speed the Plough & Yo La Tengo. Oh, I forgot, two skinny kids named Jimmy Roselli & Frank Sinatra. Regional rock attractions have been known to creep up every few years. Springsteen & his Jersey Shore sound, Wille “Loco” Alexander & the Boston rock sound. All exciting stuff – back in the day.

The husband-wife team of Deena & Jon add an edgy punkish slice with “Keep On Doing What You Do,” with its slinky intro. The 7-cut, 24-minute Old Shoes (Drops July 21-Independent) takes a vacation from their signature electric guitar-driven original sound & explores a more acoustic-based terrain. Maturity. That’s what it is. As Jon suggested in a conversation it’s a blend of garage rock & back porch strumming. Perfect description.

But now the newly polished Cucumbers have a short CD recorded in Montclair & Millburn, NJ produced by Deena. It captures some of the jubilances of the 80s era. I only say “some” because the majority of the original admirers aren’t 18-21 anymore. They will have to learn to listen with older ears. What is evident is no loss of character in The Cucumber’s music. It’s vibrant.

The music starts with bright acoustic guitars on “Gotta Start Somewhere,” & the delectable Deena Shoshkes (guitar/vocals) still sings with youthful intonation (not juvenile). The closest comparison to Athens, GA groups the Cucumbers come close to are the masterful Swimming Pool Qs with Anne Richmond Boston. The tunes are melodic, still filled with generous amounts of ramble-tamble, jangle clarity.

The band has been fairly quiet for nearly 2-decades, but it doesn’t show. “Old Shoes,” has a lilting banjo & a beautifully sincere Deena voice. She sings as benevolently as Robin Ward did on the old 1963 single “Wonderful Summer.” And while Deena doesn’t sing as rural & traditional as Iris Dement or Gillian Welch her voice is in that customary mix. She would’ve sounded great with the late John Prine. And he wasn’t even from New Jersey.

Musicians – Jon Fried (banjo/vocals), their son Jamie Fried (drums) & Rick Wagner (bass).

Highlights – “Gotta Start Somewhere,” “Old Shoes,” “Keep On Doing What You Do” & “Ready For You.”

Image courtesy of their Bandcamp site. Band image courtesy of Ray Ketchem. CD @ + +

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