Saturday, April 13, 2013

Misery Jackals

Misery Jackals. No Place For Children.

Misery Jackals Records, 2013.
Misery Jackals:

What would eventually become Misery Jackals began coalescing in 1998, when Bill Corgan acquired a banjo.  In 2006, after the death of former bandmate Pat Beck, Corgan learned how to play said banjo, and started working with another colleague, Jeff Selzer.  The two initially stuck to traditional bluegrass and punk rock songs.  Tim Burrows came with 2007, and 2008 brought the Misery Jackals to fruition.  Mike Shubert, Stephanie Serna, Eric Baltrinic, Phil Frederick, and Ben Shuber also join the crew sporadically, and some members have moved on to other projects.  If you see the Misery Jackals perform more than once, chances are you’ll see more than one iteration of the members.  

What doesn’t change is their fabulous mix of punk, bluegrass, zydeco, and native/roots music that you’ll hear at a Misery Jackals concert.  That blend of influences changes from one song to the next on No Place for Children, but the songs are all pretty solid.  The lyrics range from caricature to stories based on real life.  All of the songs tend toward the darker range of humanity, but don’t mistake that for saying that the songs are depressing in any way.  The sound and subject of the album harkens dark carnival art, or circus sideshow freaks put to music- the oddity makes it enjoyable as a reprieve from serious matters in everyday life.  With the breadth of influences that shape Misery Jackals’ music, there’s a sound and a song for nearly every music lover.  Their performances usually feature a Chicken Man, and at times include such stunts as the accordion death match earlier this year, which began as a display of musical talent and ended in destruction.  There’s a reason the group has toured over much of North America, and that reason is enjoyable music and a good show.

Just as mixed-up and crazy as most family reunions, “My Family” is catchy, changeable, and sticks with you for the rest of the day, and the final reprise is a great capstone for the album.  “Patrick” has a definite bluegrass feel, and the vocals have a hearty down-home feel to match the tale of the downtrodden, while the horns and banjo are a sort of wakeful liveliness.  Wandering more into punk feel, the vocals on Skunk Ape are ragged over top of jovial picking and drums.  “La Muerte por el Perrero” brings images of a Dia de Los Muertos mariachi band to mind, complete with sugar skulls dripping morbid sweetness.  Continuing this circus side-show theme is “Josephine,” for which I can’t think of a better description than death-metal calliope music at times (I say that as a compliment).  “The Mortuary Bop” is straight up odd but tons of fun, with backup singers reminiscent of Dan Hick’s Hot Licks, and solid guitar.  The back up singers are also found in “Don’t Remember Me,” but banjo is more prevalent and this song is slightly less bipolar with a more consistent minor tone, but a higher ending.  The title track begins with a liturgical sounding drone before launching into solid punkabilly rock for the duration.  “Pirates of the North Coast” may be the first sea shanty to originate and feature Ohio in recent memory, but the combination of Midwest state and island-culture is nothing new, and holds attention.  The story of “Sick Rick” is one that probably everyone knows, the degenerate friend that’s going through a rough patch.  “Mudflap Girl” is edgier and more musically varied than most country songs on the radio, but draws from that vein with references to truckers, banjo, guitar, and twang.  The only song on No Place for Children, that isn’t a Misery Jackals original is “Liquor and Whores,” written by Trailer Park Boys.  This rendition is solid, and just as debauched and swaying as a bachelor party styled song can get.  “Trapper Jack” has very thick, deep vocals, and a pace that varies considerably, much like the chase and flight that it embodies.  

I can easily say that this album is worth a listen to nearly anyone except religiously conservative people and classical-only listeners.  For the rest of the world, if nothing else the stories in these songs are worth the time, and you’ll probably find something enjoyable with such broad flavors.  From an academic standpoint, it’s interesting to see how such a wide range of inspiration material becomes a unique sound as found in the Misery Jackals.

Personnel: Bill Corgan (A.K.A. Sweet Willy C.; banjo, vocals), Jeff Selzer (A.K.A. Beener Nix; guitar, vocals), Tim Burrows (A.K.A. Doghouse Tim; contrabass, vocals), Ben Shuber (A.K.A. Shubes; accordion, piano, vocals), Eric Baltinic (percussion, vocals), David Badagnani (fiddle), Pete Wildman (tuba), Ryan Foltz (horns), Aubrey Nicole Bunnenberg (vocals).

Tracks: My Family, Patrick, Skunk Ape, La Muerte por el Perrero, Josephine, The Mortuaty Bop, Don’t Remember Me, No Place for Children, Pirates of the North Coast, Sick Rick, Mudflap Girl, Liquor and Whores, Trapper Jack, My Family (reprise).

Lisa Regula Meyer

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