FAME Review: The Carnivaleros - Strictly Tabu
The Carnivaleros - Strictly Tabu

Strictly Tabu

The Carnivaleros

RootaVega Records - RVR-CD-01-14

Available from The Carnivaleros's web site.

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

Every critic has a list of fairly unknown groups he or she feels an especial affection for, not just as a favor-the-underdog sentiment but because the work of the artist(s) is uniquely put amid excellences that should, the writer wails in frustration, be far more widely hailed. The Carnivaleros and The Woes are two such ensembles for me, and I mention the two in tandem because there's a darkness and melancholy in each that's as evocative and beautiful as an El Greco painting. The gorgeous opening cut to Strictly Tabu is perfect illustration of that, but the trait persists cut after cut, stringing everything together. Okay, okay, the band ain't THAT big a secret 'cause I've reviewed the previous CDs here and here, but, goddammit!, ain't I a big deal in, uh, Lompoc (Cal.), and, er, Zyzzyx (Nev.), and, heh, East Bumfuqque (Mars)? Hm, maybe I'm seeing the problem here.

Gary Mackender is, let's face it, The Carnivaleros, and the guy wears so many hats (writer, player, singer, producer, engineer) that it's miraculous his neck doesn't snap under all the weight, but it's precisely that omni-involvement with every aspect which produces the unique sound and vibe each time out, a blend of Ennio Morricone with a few beers in him, Herb Alpert serving tequila, Nick Cave sitting back and grinning in conversation with Mark Hollis, Gary Brooker staggering in—especially in Supper Club Magician—to add his two cents worth and illuminate the decadance of everything. This odd sonority is, in short, as Mackender himself wryly puts it, 'desert bayou music' but sieved through a very Eastern European colander. Then there's brother Greg Mackender's killer horn arrangements and eerie-as-hell theremin in Blue Saguaro, and you have to wonder: why on Earth is Hollywood asleep at the swtich and these guys not making movie soundtracks?

But that's the way things go in Republicania—I mean: The United Snakes of America—so you sit back wroth, glowering, bedraggled, weary, until The Carnivaleros blow into town (or your CD player) clap you on the shoulder, hand over a pair of huaraches, pass the flask, put a tambourine in yer mitts, and say "Hey, yer pissed? NO problem! But why not have a good time even so?" and you follow behind, a devilish grin wreathing your mug as you peal off a grito and highstep to the Balko-Mexamericana refrains. Catherine Zavala steps in with her beautiful voice in Pedal Steel Neighbor, and you go all swoony and goopy and goofy. In other words, y'all, there's a hell of a lot here, as per Carnivaleros usual, and you won't have a clue how much you're missing all along until you dig in. Why, even the Tin Foil Hat Senior Choir from the Copper Canyon Alzheimer's Care Center in Tucson dropped by, along with its junior brigade, Tin Foil Hat Youth Choir, to help festive things up! Where were you? No, no, no, don't tell me you don't know what I'm talking about. I heard you discussing chem trails, Big Foot, and the Illuminati with Gus across the fence, listening to George Noory and Coast to Coast. Get out of that closet, Elmer, be proud, and join the chorus! Just watch out for the cacti. They bite.

Track List:

  • Strictly Tabu
  • Sheriff Joe
  • Supper Club Magician
  • Blue Saguaro
  • Small Motor Repairman
  • eaving Nerja
  • Party Girl
  • Pedal Steel Neighbor
  • Flea Circus
  • Tin Foil Hats
  • Panopticon Waltz
All songs written by Gary Mackender
except Blue Saguaro (Mackender / Mackender).

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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