Contortionist Blues is a great title - I'm intrigued to know
whether the band were thinking of an actual contortionist having a
bad time, or maybe the ennui that comes from being an acrobat. That
the cover art features a fish riding a bicycle doesn't help, either.
Still this is no more than you'd expect from this mysterious Frostburg,
MD musical collective.
Having enjoyed The Royal Army Recording Co.'s EP Mary,
Your Ghost Is Showing earlier in the year, I was looking forward
to their first full length effort. Contortionist Blues doesn't
disappoint - it seems to be a loose sort of concept album, involving
the character Mary from the previous EP, dealing with a 10 day period
on the poor farm and full of RARC's trademark bright folk-pop tunes,
intriguing lyrics and offbeat instrumentation.
The upbeat opener "Burn Down Your Mother's House" is a
nice, Kinks-y piece of pop; it reminds me a bit of the much
missed La's, too, with a couple of wig-out electric guitar
breaks (at least I think so - it might be someone playing a vacuum
cleaner hose). The bouncy tune contrasts nicely with the drak lyrics;
overall, the most enjoyable song I've heard about arson since Grant
McLennan's "Sally's Revolution".
Other songs like "Mustard Seeds" are slower and more reflective,
reminding sometimes of Death Cab For Cutie without the lush
production - and with, er, added flutes. "Mustard Seeds"
has another of songwriter Kenny Tompkins' brilliant lines:
"You are a warm white line shining long and bright on a motion
picture screen for me." "The Last Night On The Farm"
and "In The Morning I'll Be Gone" are other standouts, overtly
country-ish with their prominent slide guitar, but made haunting and
lovely by the dark lyrics and melodies.
There's an overall mixture of folky, acoustic tunes and more uptempo
numbers (see the sprightly two-stepper "So Much For The Sun"
for another of these - if I happened to live in a place that had such
a thing as a honky tonk, I'm sure this would be playing there). Lots
of nice instrumental touches appear throughout to keep things interesting;
I noticed xylophones, flutes and trumpet, and I'm sure I missed a
few. According to the credits, guitarist Adam Laye even doubles
on paper bag !
If you heard the previous EP and want more, or if you are simply
a fan of compelling, inventive alt-country-folk-pop music with a
sense of fun, look no further. Me, I'm already jonesin' for Volume
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