By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The last waltz
Good Night, Little Girl of My Dreams
When all else fails--when description becomes banal, when praise becomes hyperbole--then perhaps it's best to fall back on the old, familiar standby: friggin' brilliant. Somewhere among these 12 tracks, on a record that lasts no longer than 35 minutes and 10 seconds, are pop songs--of the sort Kurt Weill once wrote, of the sort Joe Jackson once wrote, of the sort no one else even tries to write anymore. And that's just on the surface, Budapest One frontman Keith Killoren augmented no more or less by the guest cameos from Brave Combo's Jeffrey Barnes (who lends his clarinet to the lead-off "Signal for the Assassins") or ex-Young Turk Lee Tomboulian (playing organ on "Comfortable/Night of the Iguana"). Their imported exotica only dresses up what's already an elegant record; it's like putting a tuxedo on Duke Ellington.
Then again, if you were to listen to Good Night, Little Girl of My Dreams only for the melodies, that'd be enough, especially when most of them fly by at under two minutes. The songs, long and short, stick like rubber cement, every knotty twist and fragile turn better, more unexpected than the next. Imagine a pop record as noir thriller: You never know where the damned thing will end up--in Germany during the war, or in the middle of a spaghetti-western shootout. Which, of course, is a good thing and a bad thing: Beware the artist who asks you to follow the bouncing ball, because he'll only outsmart his audience in the end. (Killoren must think audiences like to be challenged--the gall.) You've got to be in on the joke to know "Could've Been a Texan" isn't really a country song, just a Yankee's ironic interpretation of one--not like Ween, but not too far off. Only when you listen to the lyrics ("Don't pack your guitar to leave that Lone Star / If ya bet yer hand on Nashville, you're gonna lose / They turned down Jimmie Rogers and Willie Nelson") and how Killoren sings them (like a gut-shot cowboy), do you realize it ain't a song at all. It's a warning, a threat.
Killoren's one of those real smart fellers who can't leave well enough alone: The boy, once a preacher-wannabe, writes lyrics like a quality-lit fetishist, spinning tales about lamplighters who string themselves up and set themselves on fire in the face of the Industrial Revolution; the preacher man "who walks in faith" till he runs into Temptation; and the unhappy woman who fantasizes that Rudy Vallee will rescue her from the loveless dance. Add on top of those the songs about "The Bastard Prince" and "Sir David, Hope of Woman," and suddenly every piece becomes its own separate chapter, every one adding up to construct a thrilling, baffling read. The meaning may remain elusive after a handful of consecutive spins (bastards + dead soldiers + yodeling mutes + mail-order brides = what?), but the spirit lingers forever.