Down 'n funky with enough grit to choke a dust-trail mule, this sextet lustily croaks out gutbucket atmospheres falling somewhere between New Orleans and the Everglades, boozily glutted on red beans 'n rice, etouffe, and cornbread. Osie Essed rumblingly warbles through scratchy pipes to conjure an inebriated soul caught halfway 'twixt Leon Redbone, Tom Waits, David Johansson, and Kevin Coyne. Banjo, manjo, accordion, French horn, and harmonica accompany the usual baseline (bass, guitar, drums, etc.) but fall into a blues / Cajun / deep folk zone burrowing into the offshoot of a rock splinter that used to dip generously back, ironically enough, into those very same elder forms, here resulting in 11 cuts flowing between trad venues and heady mixtures, keeping everything well under thumb in a tarnished streetwise spirit.
Essed, who wrote every track, is the undoubted centerpiece of the band, the noble savage wandering into the back-bar after a night in the gutter, sleeping off a bacchanal from the evening before, moodily stumbling in slo-burn, dazedly muttering upon divinations apprehended and codified. His band conducts itself with the same magnificent slop and integrity, the kind of diamond-in-the-rough an intrepid enthusiast hopes to locate in the seedier sections of the French Quarter. This disc is a gem of hoary secret passions incandescent with fuzzy originality, steeped experience and weariness, exasperation arising from tarnished love, a heart bruised by the strange mass of humanity it circulates within.
Jug bands often possess the same brand of earthiness, as did the early blues klatsches. Among the evolved latter, more modern groups like The Homewreckers and The Hoax sometimes followed up on the back dated direction the first few Faces LPs took. In many ways, the Stones yet profess a decent shout and stomp on the form, but these cats from New York positively wallow in the essence of what informed such near-neo-seminal work as Exile on Main Street. Some cuts are spare (Arlene), others approach Waits-ian mutant carnival cabaret (The Visitor), and still others lay out for wistful reminiscence, but all have that special "stank" jazzbos and zoned folkies constantly search for. That Coke Oven March, while beautifully recorded, is about as dirty and visceral as these affairs get, but shines with a transcendent and peculiar artfulness too damn rare in this world of polished pabulum and artificial emotions.
Osie Essed, then, is most definitely a man to be monitored; he and the band have already, in this release, produced a strangely affecting masterpiece, and it awaits only the probably-non-existent ear of a label exec savvy enough to understand that and sign these righteous bastards up. What that would mean, I couldn't say, as the culture rarely appreciates real music, but ensembles and writers this riven with true vision are few and far between, mostly trampled underfoot in the rush to saccharine goop and feeble TV narcosis…
…and so, as Samuel Pepys said, "up to bed", to sleep until our present midnight of the soul gives way to dawn. The indications of that dawn are few, but they're there.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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