First of all, Joe Cassady not only has that distinctive nasal twang that Dylan made famous, but he's also a damned good poet. I'm not nuts about modern poetry—it's mostly crap, give me Marvell and Tennyson, thank you very much—but I do favor Kenneth Patchen and others, and this guy writes in present-day vernacular while turning it ironically existential in the most surprising ways. Perhaps the inner liner photo depicts it best: an Elvis impersonator (I'm guessing it's Cassady) and a buxom Vegas showgirl at a connubial ceremony…she putting the ring on his finger. Both, despite their youth, both are starting to go to seed while decked out, and that's the point.
Chymical Vegas is modern rock-folk jazzified roots music, and Cassady's band knows its way around the signatures, especially Shu Nakamura, who's a wonder on the gee-tar, mando, dobro, and banjo (ain't it a righteous thing how Chris Ducey, David Lindley, Chris Darrow, Ry Cooder, and all those proto-country-rockers have had such influence?). The taint of decadence and things gone wrong pervades this disc, not politically but on an everyday level, with songs about pole dancers, marriages, quite a few beers, billboards, and the tintinnabulation of middle class bric a brac rattling in the wind:
She's a pole dancer babe
No one gets off lightly, but no one's misunderstood either, and, as he strums and sings, Cassaday lets you know he's been there. Even when he hasn't, he's sure thought about it a lot, sympathetic, understanding, but fooling neither himself nor you. This is a very good disc of music and words, but the words are what compel, the music a fitting matrix of eider to soften the blows to the mind and heart, a bit of a gentle-ish pummeling we very much need. Make it Rain even evinces that echoes of Van Morrison will be found in Chymical, so don't get put off by the seemingly weird allusions to abstruseness and alchemical tomfoolery in the title; this Cassady guy's very much standing on solid ground.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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