I Make a Wish for A Potato
The Holy Modal Rounders
Although arguably one of the more unjustly ignored bands to have attachments to the 60's folk revival scene (besides having Rounder Records named after them), the Holy Modal Rounders have secured a gloriously bizarre legacy by virtue of their utterly innovative and unpredictable recasting of hillbilly stringband music. As such, it should come as no surprise that they've managed to offend both the casual and committed folk listener alike, both for the liberties routinely taken with the most sacred of folk songs, and the occasionally annoying arrangements of their sometimes risque originals. Still, the Rounders' undeniably uneven career, which has seen a countless parade of cast members come and go with only Pete Stampfel and Steve Weber remaining semi-constant, has provided more than a few moments of inspired genius. I Make a Wish for a Potato captures a number of their strongest, as well as a few of their least successful, artistic leaps of the past thirty years. |
Often referred to as something of an acquired taste, the music of the Holy Modal Rounders doesn't necessarily require the most open-minded listener to find common ground on tracks featuring a setup like the frailed banjo and ragged vocals of Happy Rolling Cowboy, a track that mixes Appalachia with goofy western metaphors like Gabby Hayes fronting the New Lost City Ramblers. Another classic from the period, the nonsensical Synergy, driven by bluesy piano tripping over a chorus of barely fettered vocals, creates a humorously carefree hoedown.
No doubt, a band like the Rounders lives and dies by their quirks, making the rather pedestrian experiments stand out as being the weaker moments in the set. While altogether more polished and straightforward than the rest, the lazy barroom country of You Got to Find Me and Lazy Bones fail to leave much of an impression, sounding rather dated and more or less lacking the expected irreverence, possibly due to the decreased influence of Stampfel and Weber in the fluctuating lineup. The faux-gospel of I'm Getting Ready to Go, a traditionally styled gospel tune about going to Hades, or the sweetly swinging honky-tonk of Robbin' Banks generally work much better by taking more unconventional strides. That's not to say that Stampfel and Weber are completely in the clear of responsibility for a few of the band's lesser moments here, straining more than a little with the Jimmy Buffet-ish marimba of Everything Must Go, or Stampfel's equally awkward melding of hip-hop beats, techno synths, and countrified steel guitar in Impossible Groove - the unholiest of genre exercises. Further displaying the range of influences that seemingly change with the constant lineup changes, the Grateful Dead are evoked on the rather commonplace Sweet Lucy. Ultimately the Rounders are at their strongest when covering old-time stringband traditions, expertly dressing their contemporary hippie aesthetic in decidedly old-fashioned sounds.
Since finding an album that would be representative of the Holy Modal Rounders' body of work would be nigh to impossible, a set such as this provides a fine look into the range of sound covered by the band during the 70's, 80's, and 90's, leaving the devotee to search out their more formative 60's releases. It's ultimately up to the listener to decide if the journey is justified.