Depending on who you ask, the Ditty Bops are either eight or 80 years too late. Made up of former model Amanda Barrett and tomboy guitarist Abby Dewald, the Ditty Bops are a vaudevillian vocal duo that may cite Kate Bush and the Talking Heads as influences but actually sound just like the Andrews Sisters. They might have gone over like gangbusters in the retro revival at the end of the last century, but the group’s glee and effortlessness set them apart from their predecessors. Swing groups like the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and Brian Setzer Orchestra’s pastiche was an awkward assault, mixing tattoos with zoot suits and playing the Warped Tour; the Ditty Bops have no agenda other than to look and sound fabulous.
Moon Over The Freeway, the follow-up to the Ditty Bops’ self-titled debut, is a stronger and more confident album by spades. The group flexes their studio musician muscles: excellent pedal steel and banjo solos pepper the record, and it’s primarily on the more simplistically arranged tracks like the artificially somber “It’s A Shame” that the group falters. Dewald and Barrett’s harmonies are still cool and flawless, but the frenetic fiddles and tighter musicianship on the opening title track complete the group’s sound without revamping it. “Fish To Fry” is a catchy ragtime shuffle that’s as sexy as it is cute, while “Waking Up In The City” is an whimsical ode to metropolitan life in the new millennium that ought to make Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson green with envy: “We’ll frolic in the pesticidic grass underneath the smog/Don’t gotta worry ‘bout bee stings!/Don’t gotta worry ‘bout ants!”
But at 13 tracks, Moon Over The Freeway is a bit too long (an unnecessary cover of “Bye Bye Love” should be the first to go). As clever, adorable, and innately likeable as these tracks are, one hopes Barrett and Dewald will grow as songwriters before their next record. But while they may lack the chops of bluer contemporaries like the Dresden Dolls and Tori Amos—both of whom the Bops have opened for—they’re way too cheerful to be ignored. In “Angel With An Attitude,” they deliver their call to arms: “I’ll take that cake/And I will eat it too/I’ll get more than I need and share the rest with you.” The Ditty Bops are the most inclusive band around.