Back from the dead, this is Slim Cessna's Auto Club's first
album since most of the band disintegrated over two years
ago. Only two of the members from American Country Music
Changed Her Life are present on this album, and only Slim
Cessna himself remains from the original lineup. One of those
that left was Frank Hauser, Jr., who wrote the largest percentage
of their songs and lyrics. As a result, SCAC is a very different
band than it was before. This may be a good thing or a bad
thing depending on your personal preferences. The new sound
seems to prefer minor keys and have more religious doom and
gloom than was ever present before, and also has more of a
"grunge" sound to it now. The old-world folk stylings of the
original (self-titled) album are largely gone, with the exception
of a couple of songs. This is also the least "country" of
their albums so far, which should push them more towards an
alternative audience, and away from the country and western
audience that had basically disregarded them anyway. Financially,
this move is probably in the best interest of the band's survival,
but I can't help but feel wistful for the whimsical levity
of songs like "Limon," "Lethal Injection," "Barrel of My Gun,"
"Bartender," Kristin & Billy," and "Dear Amelia." I think
that I will never tire of those two albums for stylistically
they had perfected a sound and an atmosphere that could only
have been similarly (visually) captured by artists of the
caliber of a Rembrandt van Rijn or Norman Rockwell. ASPaTY
expands into some new territory, and isn't always successful.
However, this is certainly forgivable considering the upheaval
and resettlement the band went through. Generally, the biggest
problems with the album are more engineering than musical.
The centerpiece of the album, "Pine Box," is marred by the
totally incomprehensible chorus, and mottled or muted instrumental
mixing. There are other instances throughout where lyrics
are hard to understand, or various instruments don't sound
as crisp as they have on previous albums. Musically, the songs
seem to be a bit simpler than before; the riffs are shorter
and not quite as memorable as they have been, and the lyrics
(over all) aren't as wry or amusing.
That being said, there are successes in their new approach
to songwriting: "Viceroy Filter King" is very simple but quite
focused in presenting its message: "He was smokin' a
Viceroy Filter King/You're the greatest of men/That God's
ever seen." This chorus is clear, direct, and (in no
uncertain terms) applies a divine superlative to some ordinary
guy met in a bar. It is as perfect a line as I have ever heard
in one of their songs. (How's THAT for direct?)
However, "Jesus Christ" is too slow and uninspired. It nearly
ruins the already slow-to-build pace of the album. Its placement
on the album couldn't be worse. It should either be at the
end, to slow the album down and serve as an adequate coda,
or it should be shortened considerably (by like 90%) and turned
into the introduction of the next song:
"Goddamn Blue Yodel #7" which dramatically and thankfully
re-injects vigor and life into what was a flagging album.
This is a fast-paced and urgent, but humorous and light-hearted
song that really saves the day.
If you couldn't tell, I like this song a lot.
The next notable song is "Last Song About Satan." Of course,
it isn't, but it is a fast and fun song about Old Scratch
himself, and the Narrator's near eternal brush with damnation.
"LSAS" is funny and clever and features some mighty
fine banjo playing to boot.
"Pine Box" is arguably the apex of the album, and if it weren't
for the aforementioned problems, would be its best song. As
it stands, "Pine Box" is still a good song musically
and lyrically when you can follow it. It sounded much better
in concert, so I know that it really IS a good song.
"Cheyenne" is notable since it is, without a doubt, the most
melancholy and emotionally charged song I've ever heard them
play. I don't exactly understand it, but it is worth listening
to for its raw expression of despair and regret.
"Unto The Day" is another song that uses some compelling
minor chord progressions that I like. They're a little repetitive
(throughout the album), but for some reason I just don't get
tired of them. Go figure. This song sounds as though it was
heavily influenced by traditional Russian folk songs, a style
of music that I am also fond of.
"Hold My Head" is a song about the parousia, or "rapture"
(aka the end of the world as far as Christianity is concerned).
It starts out very glum and moody as the faithful prepare
for their end of days. It then, strangely enough, turns into
a rather uplifting song about unity among the faithful and
wraps up this odd little album.
Always Say Please and Thank You is a very experimental
album that has an equal share of hits and misses (or merely
mediocre songs). However, they deserve praise for having tried
it, even if doesn't always succeed. E. Sean Heming (aka Dwight
Pentecost, their banjo/guitar player) told me that the band
was very proud of their album, and they should be. It's not
easy to rebuild a band and change its musical direction all
at the same time, and then produce an album less than two
years later. I look forward to their next album, as I have
heard some of their new material in concert, and I like what
I've heard so far.
- In My Arms Once Again
- Viceroy Filter King
- Jesus Christ
- Goddamn Blue Yodel #7
- Cold Cold Eyes
- Last Song About Satan
- Pine Box
- Water Into Wine
- Mother's Daughter
- Unto The Day
- My Only Friend
- Hold My Head