Local Record Review: 'Cancelled Checks and Cigarettes' by Icky Thumpp
Cancelled Checks and Cigarettes
A little bit of a mystery with this one--in fact, a lot. There's the fact that nearly everything on the net about the band name ends up pointing to the similarly titled White Stripes song and album, that Icky Thumpp's website gives you preview snippets but provides no way to purchase the disc, there's no sense the trio has performed anywhere, and that there's apparently not much information about the band itself anywhere at all. (Well, bassist/acoustic guitar player Chuck Lee Bittle has his own website, at least.) But they recorded in studios in Costa Mesa and Mission Viejo, so they're doing something...somewhere.
Even more of a mystery is that the cover art would presume a kind of roots-rock country thing, slightly more grizzled than a lot of the younger types out there doing it--and not always doing it very well, so we were thinking, "Okay, so maybe something that's part the Band and part country hellraisers, maybe a bit of ZZ Top, who knows? It'd make a change." But it's not that, except maybe around the corners. Again, credit for defying expectations, but even so, sorta-punk/sorta-bar band anthems like "Sink Or Swim" or "Another Year Drags On'" are pleasant rather than remarkable.
Anyway, there's a shaggy-dog sensibility about this whole thing that appeals, even if it's some kind of private project that resulted in a disc that escaped into the wider world. Drummer and singer Stanley Stebenne's got a rough lived-in voice that sings about world weariness without sounding weary in turn, more like a burning energy to keep at it no matter what, spiking up smoother songs like "Is It True" and "Before the Night is Through" and making some songs like "There's No Tellin'" sound like Country Dick Montana's come back from the grave. And hey, guest appearances on saxophone and flute? Stranger has occurred.