Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
To be honest, the thing that brought these three albums together in the Venn diagram of my existence was a chance co-occupation of the passenger seat of my car, where the three album covers commingled in a mix of sketchbook splendor, looking for all the world like an underground comic slowly going berserk, and should you listen to theses three very singular and very lauded skirters of the alt.country form, you get a similar picture.
Calexico, the gentlest of this triumvirate opens its sunset full of wonder ironically with "Cruel" as song that heralds an album that betrays a crime we are all guilty of: listening to too much Gram Parsons.
Just kidding, you can't listen to enough Gram Parsons. Joey Burns has just the right vocal chops to step into the Nudie suit here, and through I do miss the old Calexico of ur-mariachi peyote daydreams this all-song non-instrumental version of the band will do. There are panoramic western numbers like "Panic Open String" delicious reverberating faux Mexican platters like "Roka" (complete with mariachi chanteuse counter-pointing Burn's hushed croon) and "Nom de Plume" which is a mood piece that sounds like its being intoned in fake French and solar orbits like "All Systems Red" make this a spectacular background album. The thing that gets me about Calexico is that it usually doesn't sound like foreground music, and maybe that's because of their usual instrumental bent. This majestic album shows the band moving to the front of the stage.
Simultaneously the foxiest and busiest woman in indie rock Neko Case has delivered one of her most beguiling, weirdest albums yet. Fox Confessor is built like a dinner theatre showcase, songs delivered with Nelson Riddle tenderness and the singer in coming through strong and resplendent through a Vaseline-coated lens. I think this is what Cat Power was trying to get to in her lastest, but just didn't have the chops to get to. Plus, the songs here are just subversive and elusive enough to captivate you once you dive below its sometimes saccharine surface. I'm not sure what exactly happened during "Star Witness" but I think it was bad. All the songs have that Julie London kind of forlorn doom looming overhead which makes Neko's flawless Opry thunderclap of a voice all the more jarring. Like the Fox Confessor in the title, I know she's trying to tell us something, but we might not be quick enough to grasp it. The album reaches its zenith on the brief "John saw the Numbers" interlude which opens with ghostly a capella bit and moves into a Loretta Lynn heartbreaker swing tune about John the Baptist. Its great stuff, elusive and kinda spooky, but great nonetheless.
Now, there is nothing "kinda" about Carla Bozulich's latest album Evangelista, which rips through the screen onto which Neko case's screen test is being projected to reveal a Wild Woman holding snakes and dead babies and handfuls of her own hair, scaring the bejeezus out of those lost in the previous' swoon. Legendary from her antics in Ethyl Meatplow and the Geraldine Fibbers, Bozulich is emerging as one of the more interesting persons in the darker segments of the indie playground. The opening track title track has her losing her godamn marbles over a droning fiddle and percussion that sounds like death pounding on your door. Harrowing in every sense of the word.
Her sword is beaten to a plowshare on the lighter tracks like "Steal Away" and "Prince of the World" but it's in the locust swarms of "How to be Stuck By Lightning" and the chilling "Baby, That's The Creeps" where the gauntlet is being thrown down. Her voice shudders and croaks and shrieks like a zombie Nina Simone out for blood, always with either fiddle or an ominous organ painting all the windows black and shattering all the furntiture in this haunted house of a record. The closet I can think of is Diamada Galas' exercises in excess, but this is a more nuanced, personal affair, and ultimately, much scarier. The cover art is a telling thing, looking at first like a charcoal sketch until research in the liner notes shows it to be an image scratched into glass, and you get thet feeling here, that even the most pastoral moments on the record are harvested out of agony.
Thank God I had these three on repeat, to that Calexico can coax me out of the dark place Carla sent me.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com