- Green Pajamas Country!
Although we have learned that Jeff Kelly of Seattle's Green Pajamas -- a band which has consistently delivers seductive and intelligent paisley-pop grounded in the spirit of the mid-Sixties, see here -- grew up playing country music with his father, this new album is something of a surprise.
But a surprise in a good way.
With longtime bassist Joe Ross, singer Laura Weller from his side-project The Goblin Market (whose Gothic/poetic oeuvre perhaps anticipates this shadowlands direction) and others, Kelly takes a dark turn.
Here are poetic murder ballads (Why Good Men Go Bad is exceptionally powerful with lines like "there's a rock on her chest and a rag in her mouth and weeds in her hair"), and songs of loss, whisky and honky tonk girls.
There's also an especially beautiful and moving Father Father in which a wayward son wonders if his late father whom he loves is watching over him and waiting at the gates of Heaven.
This is music which has nothing to do with contemporary country but comes from that older place of Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash and Billy Joe Shaver. Yet at times Kelly's slightly nasal vocals recall Tom Petty in menacing country mood, and in the truckers lament Desiree there is a winding guitar part which seems shaved off from the Beatles' version of Buddy Holly's Word of Love.
After the dramatic but short "theme" which echoes classic soundtracks like Bonanza and The Big Country, Green Pajamas get down to more brooding matters on Pass Me Another Whiskey which opens like The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ("Listen to me Beth of the tale I'll tell of drinking and sinking into debt").
With harmonica (Honky Tonk Girls), organ (the Petty-like Last Night Was the End of the World) and accordion (the ancient sounding ballad Isabelle Blue), these songs touch a lot of country points.
But this really grips when things get bleak as on the death'n'sex banjo-coloured Winter of 23 ("it snowed like a bastard . . . Daddy died of a heart attack") and especially that screenplay-in-verse Why Good Men Go Bad.
In the Wires is one of those quiet contemporary classics of mystery and yearning which wouldn't disgrace Neil Young at his best and the nine minute She's Gone She's Gone Daddy She's Gone in one dark ride into a crime of passion and a flight to the lands of snow.
Bleak but poetic, suffused in death, drama, cigarette smoke and whisky, these songs are a very long way from Green Pajamas' terrific psychedelic sounds, but Kelly's lyrics and these gripping deliveries make you wonder what took them so long to get to what seems another -- if very different -- natural home.