The Codetalkers, an iconoclastic Southern jam/roots circus, bills itself as "featuring Col. Bruce Hampton," and sure he's in the band, but if you are looking for his trademark brand of Meaty, Beefheart-y Big and Bouncy insanity, look elsewhere. Here he presides over the proceedings as a sort of benevolent father figure, a grinning Buddha with a guitar. This is pretty much the Bobby Lee Rodgers show. The singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and former Berklee instructor carries the album with a studied take on loopy roots rock, laced with more than a dash of NRBQ-esque wackiness.
"Body in the Lake" and "Grandma" set the tone of this madcap romp of an album, which has enough excursions to literal space ("Saturn") and deep space rock ("UFO") to satisfy the group's noodle-hungry fans. The only klunker is "Rice Clients," an almost unbearable festival of forced frivolity. Masquerading as experimentation, it resembles a foppish ensemble number from an excruciatingly bad Broadway show.
Oddly, the absolute highlight here is a remake of "Isles of Langerhan," the title track to the excellent 1982 album by Hampton's much-revered Late Bronze Age band. Unearthed as a nod to the past, the song -- retooled with a shuffling, bluesy vibe -- is an affectionate look back and a great taste of the appealing diversity of the legendary guitarist. However, here it just inspires the listener to want more pure Hampton, uneclipsed by Rodgers (and to seek out the excellent reissue of the album from Atlanta's Terminus Records).
-- Lee Valentine Smith
The Codetalkers play Thursday, Dec. 16, at Smith's Olde Bar. $12, plus two cans of food.