Review: Bob Hoffnar & the Mood Illusion, Things We Wonder: An Interpretation of the Shaggs (Rock Tumbler)

Deft experimental combo reworks Worst Album of All Time contender into avant-garde jazz


Pedal steel guitarist Bob Hoffnar has never been afraid of showcasing his instrument in realms disconnected from the C&W aesthetic, but it takes a brave soul to take on the catalog of the Shaggs. The legendarily arduous trio behind perennial "worst album of all time" Philosophy of the World, the sincere but hapless Wiggin sisters challenge every notion of musical competency. In light of the band's reputation, Hoffnar approaches the music the only way he can: straight, without a hint of ironic detachment. Accompanied by Daniel Dufour on drums; Mike St. Clair on bass, trombone, and melodica; and Chris McQueen on guitar, Hoffnar cleans up arrangements, zeroes in on melodies, and treats the sisters' tendency to play each song in their own personal tempo as a feature rather than a bug. "That Little Sports Car" becomes avant-garde jazz rather than incompetent rock & roll, and the infamous "My Pal Foot Foot," Dorothy Wiggin's ode to her beloved cat, sounds like a deliberately experimental sound painting. Unsurprisingly, "It's Halloween," "Sweet Thing," and "Why Do I Feel?" – songs that already have reasonable tunes – come off best. The imaginative and expert Hoffnar mines the Shaggs' extremely raw material for the gold their adherents always claimed was there.

***

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