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Slim Cessna's Auto Club
Always Say Please and Thank You
Alternative Tentacles

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.

-Jason Dunn

Track Listing:

  1. In My Arms Once Again
  2. Viceroy Filter King
  3. Jesus Christ
  4. Goddamn Blue Yodel #7
  5. Cold Cold Eyes
  6. Last Song About Satan
  7. Pine Box
  8. Cheyenne
  9. Water Into Wine
  10. Mother's Daughter
  11. Unto The Day
  12. My Only Friend
  13. Hold My Head

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