Monday, April 11, 2011
Thee Shambels: "Jenny's Waltz E.P." (2011) CD Review
Jenny's Waltz E.P. is a wonderful surprise, like suddenly being aware of a bizarre holiday whose trappings include dancing goats, corpse-painting, and coaxing elderly statesmen into tree forts. And you curse your parents for keeping this great celebration from you for so long. The E.P. has only four songs, but there is plenty of great stuff packed into those tunes.
The first track, "Baby's Bones," is like a folk dance through a graveyard in broad daylight. It features some wonderful lyrics, like "We put her way up high where the rats wouldn't get her/We put her way up high so that God wouldn't see/That I miss my baby's bones." I immediately loved this. Yes, these guys are aware of their own sense of humor. How could they not be? What they might be less aware of is their simultaneous ability to be moving. Perhaps it's a sly tug at the heart, but it's a tug at the heart nonetheless. It's a tricky thing, and no small accomplishment, to both amuse and affect emotionally.
"The Girl At The Bottom Of The World"
Neville's voice is the voice of a traveler, a troubadour. Reminds me of Feste - the man who can play the entertainer, even the fool, but with hints of knowledge and wisdom in his songs. And still, the songs are fun. You can drink and sway to them with a smile on your face, laughing at lines like "She talks in my sleep" and "Well, I'll try to remember to pray/And I'll remember to floss/To avoid the loss/And if it rains, well, I'll stay inside." And then suddenly partway through it hits you - "You see we live/We live as we dream/We dream alone/We dream alone." The song sneaks up on you, and when it knows it has you, it suddenly gives you these lines, this serious moment. The wonderful backing vocals by Serena Jean Southam really add to the song's power and beauty.
"The Road To Hell"
"The Road To Hell" is folk's joyful bastard child. It has bright tones and a comforting rhythm and some back porch-type playing. But then it has some surprising lyrics: "It's a widely held belief/That the road to hell is paved with good intentions/If water must find its own level/Well, how does it rise and how does it settle?"
"Jenny Come Back"
"Jenny Come Back" is the best track on the CD. The work of a devilish magician who could take a waltz and infuse it with a beastly heart and darkly gorgeous pulse. It begins, "Was your dealer arrested/Were you then molested by San Francisco P.D." The chorus is "Oh Jenny come back/Come back to New York/Come back with all of your charms/Oh Jenny come back/Come back to New York/Come back to our wide open arms."
At times, particularly during the instrumental section, it reminds me of some of the wildest and strangest work from Josh Lederman Y Los Diablos. And then there is a bizarre and delightfully hilarious spoken word section, which has the lines, "Ah, she was a magnificent-looking woman/She had long black hair/And her one good eye always seemed to sparkle at me." This is a fantastic song.
Thee Shambels are Neville Elder on vocals, guitar, tambourine and kalimba; Shane Paulsen on guitar and ukulele; Scott Kitchen on double bass; JJ Murphy on drums and percussion; Serena Jean Southam on vocals; Alex Mallet on banjo (and backing vocals on "Jenny Come Back"), and Melissa Elledge on accordion.
All songs were written by Neville Elder except "The Girl At The Bottom Of The World," which was written by Neville Elder and Kathleen O'Sullivan.
I'm looking forward to hearing more from these guys.