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Black Jake and the Carnies - Where the Heather Don't Grow

Where the Heather
Don't Grow

Black Jake and the Carnies

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Heh!, these guys have originated "crabgrass", a blend of bluegrass, Americana, and punk, and the appellation is as wry as the music, which never flags in snarky and theatric attitude amid great chops. Right off the bat, I was minded of the Escape The Floodwater Jug Band, a shining example of taking a mode and stretching the hell out of it until just the right eccentric housing is established. That way, not only is a great musical product wrought but a heck of a lot of fun to boot.

Under a very attractively packaged skull, crossbones, and banjo logo package, this CD is immediately cheering for its jig tempos and affected style, old West snake-oil stagey and infectious. Black Jake himself, the lead coyote, plays banjo, sings, wrote all the songs, and produced the entire schmear—a talented and busy guy! The gent's an exceedingly clever writer, his lyrics a pleasure to listen to and read (a sheet is included), graceful, witty, often darkly hilarious ironic tales of human beings fucking around with other human beings.

The title song's a lurid tale of the vicious side of fairies and weird myth folk messing with innocent youth, to humanity's grief. Hunters' Moon details damnation as a werewolf, and A Happy Easter To Ya is anything but joyful. Behind all the madmen, liars, hypocrites, naives, and doomed souls, however, the band keeps up a sprightly pace, oft like a train hurtling down the tracks, with Black's ragged and urgent voice remonstrating and proclaiming. Songs like Crazy McCraedy's develop a genuinely wistful atmosphere populated with the kind of folk one would shudder at seeing in The X-Files and Sopranos.

Black Jake & The Carnies have issued a CD for those who want a bright new wrinkle in the old tradition, a concoction both reverent and blasphemous, something to evoke a sparkle in the eye while evoking visions from Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. The recording is quite good as is—a very good home job, if my suspicions are correct—but deserving of even more: top drawer engineering with all the bells and whistles. I'm not sure what to make of the "Special Black Jake thanks to Jesus" line in the credits, but I snorted when I read it. Lotsa fun and tons of cool musicianship no matter how you look at it.

Track List:

  • Paper Outlaw
  • No Diamond Ring
  • Crazy MacCraedy's
  • Hunter's Moon
  • Jasper Watkins
  • Styxferry County
  • Where the Heather Don't Grow
  • Bone Man
  • A Happy Easter to Ya
  • Swing Low
All songs written by Black Jake.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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