When it was suggested to Jared Putnam that his new recording, Brontosaurus on Pluto, indicates a wonderfully imaginative and possibly quite sick mind at work, he responded, “I prefer to think of my mind as possibly imaginative and wonderfully quite sick.”
Either way, the man who is best known as the bassist/vocalist for Le Chat Lunatique has produced a recording that will appeal both to children and to adults who, like himself, have a wonderfully childlike and quite possibly perverse fascination with the icky and the macabre. Only Putnam, and perhaps Edward Gorey, could convincingly proclaim their love with these lyrics, sung over a ukulele whimsically strummed in three-four time: “When I’m with you the world seems so lovely and clean / instead of a plague-ridden hell / where Satan and his minions dine on cadavers / and rats scurry through the ashes / and they pick eyelashes from out of their teeth / and they flick them onto the fiery heath.”
The all-original repertoire visits diverse genres, from Western swing to gypsy jazz, spacey modern stuff to classically inflected soundtracks for movies yet to be imagined. Somehow, the whole thing holds together. Putnam says that the recording’s coherence comes from the consistent instrumentation. “The three main sounds I tried to use on almost every song were the sound of the upright bass, the violin and the ukulele,” he says. “So almost every song has at least those three instruments.” His signature delight in words also threads through the entire project—even on instrumentals, with evocative titles like “Claire’s Embryonic Adventure,” a “swishy, bubbly” representation of what his daughter might have heard in the womb.
That’s Putnam on tenor ukulele, by the way, not to mention upright and electric basses, guitar, tenor banjo, mouth harp and wind chimes. He’s joined on the recording by his Le Chat comrades—Muni Kulasinghe (violin), John Sandlin (guitar) and Fernando Garavito (drums)—and by Auge Hays (steel guitar) and Monica Putnam (voice), his wife and the woman who keeps the world from being a plague-ridden hell.
Putnam’s been accumulating the material “over the years,” he says. “Some of the tunes that sound more like Western-swingy country-ish I wrote back when I was playing in a cowboy band,” he says, referring to Syd Masters & The Swing Riders. They were a little “too bizarre” for the Masters band, so they never got played. Others are more recent, but somehow not quite a fit for Le Chat. “I guess one of the purposes of this CD is a place for those songs that didn’t fit,” Putnam says. “They didn’t fit anywhere, so they went to Pluto with the brontosaurus.”
Putnam thought it would be a kick to match up a giant dinosaur and a tiny planet that shared a common characteristic: “Both the brontosaurus and Pluto are now considered to be scientific mistakes,” he says. “You’ve probably heard how Pluto is no longer considered a planet. The brontosaurus was an archeological mistake where the paleontologists who originally discovered it had mixed up a few bones, put the wrong head on the wrong dinosaur. Nowadays, it’s generally considered to be an animal that didn’t exist.”
There’s no mistake, scientific or otherwise, about Putnam’s musical imagination—it definitely exists, and it will be on full display at the release show. The party is actually a Le Chat gig at Scalo, but the middle set, starting around 10 p.m., will be devoted to the new album. In addition to his Le Chat bandmates, his wife and steel-player Hays, Putnam will be assisted by Michael Grimes, who’ll take over bass duties and let Putnam wail away on the ukulele and guitar.