CHRISTA HUGHES & THE HONKY TONK SHONKS


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SHONKY - What the critics say

It takes courage to jam a clarinet up Motorhead's kazoo, but then Christa Hughes isn't the shying-away type.

A fear-free zone with a voice you could build an aircraft carrier out of, Hughes leads the Honky Tonk Shonks in this adventure in musical rebirthing, giving a slew of rock and pop gems - spiced with a couple of Hughes originals - a coat of cabaret, gin and cigar smoke.

The scene is set as Pete Neville's frantic drumming and Justin Fermino's wailing clarinet open Ace of Spades, followed by a swaggering, banjo-powered version of AC/DC's Back in Black that's already replacing the original in this reviewer's head.

In different hands, Shonky could have been gimmicky, but not here. Underpinned by Hughes's supervamp larynx and in-your-face charisma, each song sounds fresh yet perfectly aged, a bit like finding the White Stripes or Britney on Bakelite.

By the time Grant Arthur parks his Sousaphone in Franz Ferdinand's Take Me Out, it feels like the way the world should be; likewise when Mein Herr from Cabaret is wrapped around the melody of Iggy Pop's Lust for Life, and vice versa. Musical cross-dressing, if you will.

Hughes clan paterfamilias Dick Hughes is on guest piano, vocal and ranting duties: "What is this awful music? ... Sounds like a bloody factory to me." Some bloody factory. Shonky is a joy.

James Jeffrey - The Australian

Hughes could probably make Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star sound like a song about curious sexual activities. Flirting with humanitiy's most delicious depravities has always amused the Sydney Singer, whether with Machine Gun fellatio or shouting the blues with her father, Dick. Here she delights in time-travelling with songs by the likes of Motorhead and Britney Spears rendering them with a loosely 1920s idiom. AC/DC's Back in Black even culminates in a gospel rave-up. While Hughes's singing is mostly full-fronal, big and sassy, it is also leavened with a keen instinct for slinky, swinging phrasing.

John Shand - Sydney Morning Herald

Most people's introduction to Christa Hughes was as the all-stripping, all-dancing wonderwoman who would hijack Machine Gun Fellatio shows for songs like Motherfucker On A Motorcycle and (Let me Be) Your Dirty Fucking Whore. She's since become a cabaret queen, ringleader of Circus Oz and last year joined up with her father Dick Hughes for a well-recieved album of blues standards, Which brings us to Shonky, a record packed full of radical reinterpretations of a diverse range of modern songs.

The material has been re-arranged for tuba, horns and piano to create a sound that's something like the most riotous Salvation Army band in the world. Opening with a freewheeling Ace of Spades, the record sashays hilariously through everything from Aerosmith to The White Stripes and LaRoux. The standout moment is a recasting of Jessie J's horrendous Price Tag, complete with barking piano man, which manages to completely recontextualise the original.

Toward's the albums end, Hughes pulls a neat party trick in swapping the lyrics for Mein Herr from the musical Cabaret and Iggy Pop's Lust For Life over two raucous tracks. It's exactly the kind of inventive, irreverent fucking about that you hope to hear on this kind of album. The song choices are all very strong to the point where it sounds as though she has created her own modern table of standards. I can't heap enough praise on this; Shonky is a fantastic covers record that cements Christa Hughes as Australia's leading lady of cabaret.

Tomas Ford - Drum Media, Perth

Christa has a shonky way to cover old songs

If you’re going to tackle a cover, there’s no point unless you bring something extra or different to it. Sydney singer, songwriter and performer Christa Hughes knows that you have to make it yours and so she has one of the freshest takes on a covers album this side of the Equator with the recently released Shonky.

She is accompanied by her band, the Honky Tonk Shonks, and this diverse collection of rock and pop tunes allows them to let their imagination and talent run wild.

Imagine if Motorhead’s Lemmy found himself sitting in a plush velvet chair in a Weimar-style cabaret lounge singing Ace of Spades or that the main guitar riffs of AC/DC’s Back in Black were played by a banjo. Or how about Jessie J’s Price Tag turned into a clarinet-driven flapper-esque 1920s rant on the evils of money? Getting the picture?

“I’ve always wanted to do Ace of Spades because I love it,” Hughes says. “It’s about drinking and gambling. For a speed metal song I think we did something unexpected.” Shonky also covers Britney Spears (Toxic), Jackson 5 (I Want You Back), Franz Ferdinand (Take Me Out), Dee-Lite (Groove Is in the Heart), Aerosmith (Walk This Way) and La Roux (Bulletproof).

Hughes has contributed two of her own songs, Cheap Thrills and Pig Flu Blues, and both fit right in.

The singer, formerly of Machine Gun Fellatio and ring mistress for Circus Oz, says that the album was a group effort with the Honky Tonk Shonks working through all the choices and arrangements together to find the songs best suited to her bluesy voice and their playing style. They’ve treated these popular songs with everything from a Cuban tango and torch tune to a German polka and some New Orleans gut-bucket style delivery. They recorded old school — in less than a couple of weeks and with the whole band in the same room.

“We wanted that live energy,” Hughes says. “Once you start separating people, even though it can be a slicker production, you can lose that energy and spirit you entered the room with. I wanted it to be the sort of album you put on and you step into a crazy hall and there’s a band playing these songs in the corner.”

Special guest on Shonky is Hughes’ dad Dick, a piano player who provides the kind of rant-meets-rapping only an 80-year-old could manage.

The pair released the ARIA-nominated album 21st Century Blues in 2010 and did shows in Perth earlier this year. “He’s essentially a piano player but people love his voice,” she says.

“He’s not the most extraordinary singer but has an old voice from another era that you can’t pretend or mimic.”

Hughes’ gut feeling was to choose songs she liked. Though not a big fan of Britney Spears, she had a perfect idea of how to treat Toxic — with a bit of bluegrass and a trombone.

“You want to own the song. One of the worst covers I have ever heard was Gene Simmons covering Firestarter by the Prodigy. It sounded like he got the karaoke backing track. It’s the worst; cringe-worthy and unimaginative.”

Ara Jansen - The West Australian