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LIANE HANSEN, host:

For 15 years, the Asylum Street Spankers have been tearing it up in their hometown, Austin, Texas, and around the country. They have a quirky blend of acoustic blues, string band, swing, jazz, folk and even a few kid songs. The Spankers approach their tunes with both wit and panache. And now the group has turned its talents to gospel music with their new modestly titled CD, "God's Favorite Band."

The Asylum Street Spankers join us now in Studio 4A. We have a small audience here, so give it up for the Asylum Street Spankers, everybody.

(Soundbite of applause)

HANSEN: I'll introduce the co-band leader, Christina Marrs on vocals, saw, guitar and banjo. She also produced the album. And she's accompanied by her band leading partner on vocals, harmonica and washboard, Wammo - just Wammo?

WAMMO (Musician, Asylum Street Spankers): Yep, that's it.

HANSEN: Are you named after a Frisbee?

WAMMO: Actually sort of.

HANSEN: Really?

WAMMO: Kind of.

HANSEN: Is there a story there?

WAMMO: I was conceived on a slip and slide.

HANSEN: Fine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Welcome. And Wammo, then, do the honors. Introduce us to the rest of the band.

WAMMO: Sure. We got Dave Long on high harmonies and mandolin, Shawn Dean on fiddle, Morgan Patrick Thompson on bass, Mark Henne on drums and Nevada Newman on guitar and harmonies.

HANSEN: Fantastic. We're going to get right to the music because why not? And you're going to do a traditional tune for us, "Wade in the Water," and it's also included on your new CD "God's Favorite Band."

(Soundbite of song, "Wade in the Water")

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: (Singing) Wade in the water, wade in the water, children. Wade in the water. He's gonna trouble the water. He's gonna trouble the water. Wade in the water, oh, wade in the water children. Wade in the water. He's gonna trouble the water. He's gonna trouble the water.

Ms. CHRISTINA MARRS (Musician, Asylum Street Spankers): (Singing) (unintelligible) all come in dressed in red.

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: (Singing) He's gonna trouble the water.

Ms. MARRS: Oh, it must be the children that Moses led.

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: (Singing) He's gonna trouble the water.

Ms. MARRS: (Singing) Oh, you don't believe how clear it is.

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: (Singing) He's gonna trouble the water.

Ms. MARRS: (Singing) They're gonna follow him down by the Jordan stream.

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: (Singing) He's gonna trouble the water. Why don't you wade in the water? Wade in the water, children. Wade in the water. He's gonna trouble the water. He's gonna trouble the water.

Ms. MARRS: (Singing) See them all come dressed in white.

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: (Singing) He's gonna trouble the water.

Ms. MARRS: (Singing) Oh, it looks like children of Israelites.

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: (Singing) He's gonna trouble the water.

Ms. MARRS: (Singing) Oh, look over yonder and what did I see?

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: (Singing) He's gonna trouble the water.

Ms. MARRS: (Singing) A band of angels coming for me.

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: (Singing) He's gonna trouble the water. He's gonna trouble the water. He's gonna trouble the water.

(Soundbite of applause)

HANSEN: You guys have been together for 15 years. How'd you meet?

Ms. MARRS: Sixteen in April.

HANSEN: Sixteen. How'd you meet?

Ms. MARRS: Well, Wammo and I are the only original members. We've had maybe 30 people come and go over a good course of our long, illustrious career. We met at a party.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Do you remember the party, Wammo?

WAMMO: I do, as a matter of fact.

Ms. MARRS: I remember it quite well.

WAMMO: Out in Llano, Texas there's a place called the Dabbs Hotel. And they had what they called the Llano Bolano show, which was an artist-only party and you had to perform something to attend. And her talent that she performed, well, she twirled a fire baton to Primus.

HANSEN: With great success, I take it.

WAMMO: It was amazing.

HANSEN: And from this to "God's Favorite Band," really.

WAMMO: It takes 15 years.

HANSEN: And this is a song - now, who wrote this "Volkswagen Thing?"

WAMMO: Oh, I did.

HANSEN: You did, Wammo?

WAMMO: Yeah.

HANSEN: Okay. I mean, what on earth got into your head to write this tune?

WAMMO: Well, I thought about if God wanted to be anonymous while he was hanging out on earth, what would he drive? So he'd drive one of the ugliest cars ever made, Volkswagen thing.

A, one, two, three, two.

(Soundbite of song, "Volkswagen Thing")

WAMMO: (Singing) I was too worn and along down speedway, my mind not thinking a thing, when I saw a vision of a holy roller, that's when I started to sing.

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: (Singing) God drives a Volkswagen thing, God drives a Volkswagen thing.

WAMMO: (Singing) And it changes color when it changes his mood. God drives a Volkswagen thing.

Now, Satan, he drives a Mercedes. It's long and it's black and it's clean. And he slams on the brakes on the entrance ramp, because he's so doggone mean -he's got a Hummer too.

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: (Singing) But God drives a Volkswagen thing. God drives a Volkswagen thing.

WAMMO: (Singing) And he never blocks up the passing lane. God drives a Volkswagen thing.

Now, the Nazis, they built the VW, so evil would still feel the sting. But when Jehovah wants to cruise around without getting recognized, he drives his Volkswagen thing.

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: (Singing) God drives a Volkswagen thing. God drives a Volkswagen thing.

WAMMO: (Singing) With Jesus his jack and Buddha his spare, God drives a Volkswagen thing.

Now, Elvis, he gave away Cadillacs, which is easy if you are a king. But God never bothers with radio, from the backseat Elvis was saved.

ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS: (Singing) God drives a Volkswagen thing, dear Lord. God drives a Volkswagen thing. But it runs flat nine in the corner. God drives a Volkswagen thing. Hear them bells ring.

Amen, y'all.

(Soundbite of applause)

HANSEN: Asylum Street Spankers with "God Drives a Volkswagen Thing." Wammo, can you sing that without a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon?

WAMMO: I don't think so.

HANSEN: Ah, okay. Well, we're glad that you have it with you. Most of the tunes on your new album, "God's Favorite Band," are not originals. I mean, you did traditional songs but you also do some covers. And one of the ones that you do is an old soul stirrer song, "Last Mile of the Way."

Ms. MARRS: Like most gospel music, most has its roots in traditional songwriting as well. I mean, there's plenty of songs older than this version that are based around the concept of "Last Mile of the Way." Since gospel has a great oral tradition, you get a lot of sharing of lyrics. It's like well I woke up this morning in the blues. You know, you're not going to hear it just once in one song.

HANSEN: Well, let's hear "Last Mile of the Way."

Ms. MARRS: One, two, three, four...

(Soundbite of song, "Last Mile of the Way")

Ms. MARRS: (Singing) If I walk in the pathway of beauty, oh Lord. If I work 'til the close of the day, Lord. I shall see the great king in all his beauty. When I've gone the last mile of the way, Lord, yes, sir.

When I've gone the last mile of the way, oh yeah, I shall rest at the close of the day, oh Lord. All I know there is joy awaiting, oh well. Oh, when I've gone the last mile of the way. If I were...

HANSEN: That's the Asylum Street Spankers performing "Last Mile of the Way" in NPR Studio 4A. Our feature was produced by Peter Breslow and recorded by Neil Tevault. You can hear full performances from our session in Studio 4A at nprmusic.org.

The Asylum Street Spankers' new CD on Yellow Dog Records is called "God's Favorite Band."

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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