From the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s, Ottawa-based saxophonist-guitarist Ray Condo was the animated frontman for a country/rockabilly aggregation known as the Hardrock Goners. In 1995, Condo merged with a similarly themed band, Jimmy Roy's Five Star Hillbillies, to form Ray Condo and His Ricochets, a new outfit devoted to the preservation of western swing, jazz, rockabilly, and swinging country. During the past five years, Condo and his Ricochets have managed to record three frenetic albums -- 1995's Swing! Brother! Swing!
, 1997's Door to Door Maniac
, and this year's High and Wild
, all for California's Joaquin Records (although Swing!
was initially self-released and reissued by Joaquin). Condo's appreciation for the various American styles that he loves and translates is so authentic that the Squirrel Nut Zippers extended an invitation to the Ricochets to open the East Coast legs of the Zippers' '97/'98 tours, where they were ecstatically received. The band typically covers the more obscure proponents of country swing jazz (Jimmy and Johnny, the Crystal Springs Ramblers, Glen Barber, Buddy Johnson) and makes them all sound new. It also manages to throw in a handful of more recognizable songs, including a shivering take on Gene Vincent's "I Flipped," a honky-tonk reading of Connie Francis's "Many Tears Ago," and an astonishing arrangement of Mose Allison's "Parchman Farm." And you can't forget the look. Bassist Pete Turland works the stand-up, drummer Steve Taylor bangs effectively on his single snare, and Condo himself -- skinny tie, nice suit, cigarette in the corner of his mouth -- looks like a beanpole approximation of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams.