>Bad Livers

Out Here

Blood & Mood

(Sugar Hill Records)

In the interest of full disclosure, Bad Liver Mark Rubin's klezmer band, Rubinchik's Orkestyr, played at my wedding a couple of years ago. But what's a poor Jew boy from Dallas to do when it's time to put the shtetl to the metal and tie the knot? Time to hire out for the band of plenty, and it never hurts when the big man out front knows more about Yiddish folk music from the early 20th century than most people our age know about the collected works of REM and REO. Rubin -- an Okie Jew from way back, who killed a little time in Killbilly before moving to Austin in 1989 -- houses an enormous, enviable library of ancient melodies crowded in his skull. That said, when he pairs up with partner and old friend Danny Barnes for a ride as the Bad Livers, Rubin slides into the back seat, perhaps even into the trunk: Rubin will be the first to admit that Blood & Mood -- the most thrilling and inexplicable album from a most thrilling and inexplicable band -- bears a great deal of resemblance to a Danny Barnes solo record. It also bears a great deal of resemblance to a masterpiece.

Rubin and the banjo-wielding Barnes (he of the voice so nasal, it sounds as though he actually sings through his left nostril) have always been convinced that even those who adore their albums don't necessarily get them, which is, in part, quite true. Once upon a time, it was easy to mistake their art for novelty, their passions for lost causes; they made "dead" music come alive and rendered antediluvian echoes as though brand-freakin'-new. They were bluegrass fetishists raised on punk and in love with jazz, so their Iggy Motörhead Monk covers fit in quite nicely amongst the original originals; but pity the fool who dismissed Rubin and Barnes as nostalgists. These boys are perhaps the most future-minded, open-minded musicians around. It was inevitable they would one day make a record using samplers, playing "metal" and "rock," going "rap" and "ambient." That it all coalesces into a single drop of mercury is testament to both their genius and purpose.

To describe Blood & Mood is to diminish its impact, to attach to it names that become only meaningless points of reference. Yes, "Fist Magnet" and "The Legend of Sawdust Boogers" recall Captain Beefheart filtered through a busted speaker, but how do you explain the hip-hop-goes-to-the-Opry thing? Yes, "I'm Losing" could well have been a Butthole Surfers number, but what's that Lloyd Maines slide guitar doing beneath all that fuzz? Fact is, Blood & Mood is the album Moby only tried to make with last year's Play: "Looky There," with its sampled drum loops and synth wheezes and ghostly gospel echoes, is at once chilling and not a little stirring. Same goes for the closer, "Man vs. Fate-2 out of 3 Falls, 10 Round Limit," which stops being a "song" somewhere along the way and becomes nothing more, nothing less than a reverberation. You can feel it in your bones and in your blood.

Robert Wilonsky


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