- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

“A lot of these [songs] had never been performed onstage because we broke up before the record came out,” says Zombies keyboardist Rod Argent from his Los Angeles hotel room. He and fellow Zombie Colin Blunstone bring their classic songs and a few new ones to the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis tonight.

Perhaps the most English-sounding of the British invasion bands thanks to Mr. Blunstone’s wounded-choirboy vocals, the Zombies are known here mostly as a three-hit wonder. “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” and “Time of the Season” are still classic-rock radio staples, with “Season” a worldwide smash from their 1968 masterpiece “Odyssey and Oracle.”

It was too little too late. Hitless in England, the band had decided to split even before the album’s release, with Mr. Argent and bassist Chris White forming Argent shortly thereafter.

Sometimes called the British “Pet Sounds,” “Oracle” is textured, crafted pop with classical influences and themes of changing seasons, and fading innocence as in the beautifully naive “Maybe After He’s Gone.” (It’s worth noting that Mr. Argent was only 22 when “Oracle” came out.)

“Oracle” was recorded at Abbey Road just after the Beatles finished “Sgt. Pepper,” and Mr. Argent says the Zombies got to use the “same studio guys” and could “use some of those things they pioneered.”

“Care of Cell 44” has Beach Boys-style harmonies, and sounds like your typical “my baby’s coming home” song until you realize it’s about a girl getting out of prison. Mr. Argent says they had been doing three-part harmony since “before the Beatles came out,” although he admits to the Beach Boys as an influence. But it’s still very English, as evidenced by Mr. Argent’s jaunty dance-hall piano.

“A Rose for Emily” is a thematic descendant of “Eleanor Rigby,” allegorically telling how a woman’s roses are picked by lovers, leaving none for herself as winter comes. “Changes” is a gorgeous madrigal, with the whole group singing how “I knew her when winter was her cloak.”

The album’s lyrical highlight may be “Brief Candles,” where three singers tell three sides of a pub story, all of them self-serving. “Hung Up on a Dream” is a trippy Summer of Love song. “That’s one of the few things that lyrically dates” the album, says Mr. Argent.

The closer, “Time of the Season,” grabs your attention with its menacing bass line, jazzy organ solos, and its now-classic question, “What’s your name? Who’s your daddy?” Although vague about the song’s meaning, Mr. Argent allows that the line is a “gesture” to George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” the first song the Zombies ever recorded.

The new band has four vocalists, so the harmonies should be intact. Mr. Argent says they play about half of “Oracle,” plus Argent’s cheesy classics, “Hold Your Head Up” and “God Gave Rock and Roll to You.” Not to mention some new songs “written with Colin’s voice in the back of my head, like it used to be in the old days.”

Mr. Argent says when “people are turning you on creatively … that’s what’s more likely to reach out and touch people. It doesn’t have to, of course, but you stand a chance.”

• • •

The “world’s greatest party band” brings some needed heat to Virginia as Buckwheat Zydeco returns to the Barns of Wolf Trap on Tuesday.

On the 2001 CD “Down Home Live!” accordionist and keyboardist Buckwheat (aka Stanley Dural Jr.) comes onstage to an intro that’s half soul, half Vegas-era Elvis. Like several songs here, it’s not your typical chugging zydeco, but has plenty of energy nonetheless.

“What You Gonna Do?” is more what you’d expect from a southwest Louisiana zydeco band, including a great accordion sustain at the end. Before then we’re treated to hollers of “We’re gonna have a throw-down party tonight” and some solos from everyone in the band.

“Walking to New Orleans” is slow like the Fats Domino original and playful, although it misses the piano. “Trouble” is an uptempo horn blues that could have been a Stevie Ray Vaughan song, while “Make a Change” is a remarkable Cajun/reggae anthem: More songs blending these styles would be welcome.

Buckwheat’s most interesting live song (and not on the album) is a 13-minute version of “Hey Joe,” a worthy choice given the original song’s dark Delta sound. And it’s fascinating to hear Hendrix riffs done on accordion, even if Mr. Dural’s vocals can’t match Mr. Hendrix’s.

After 25 years, Mr. Dural might be slowing down a bit, but it doesn’t appear that his accordion is.

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