Q and the Black Martin
Challenging and confounding the listener is a dangerous path: You might be as weighty as Bone Machine-era Tom Waits, yes, but you could also end up as annoying as faux-lounge act Toledo. Like the above, Q and the Black Martin almost seem to dare the listener to hang in there, sporting a deep, howling, gurgling, whooping delivery that might be more appropriate from a deranged street person than anybody you paid money to listen to. In Q's case, the vocals tend to the street--think Long John Baldry on mushrooms. Q&TBM is full of crashing guitars that bear down relentlessly while the lyrics paint somewhat cliched black-and-gray pictures of streets wet with booze, dope, and blood. This album is definitely not for everyone; there are times when it doesn't seem that it's for anyone.
It's no surprise that Cotton Mather is on Houston's Copper Records: just check out Copper's palpably heartfelt tribute to Badfinger--the great overlooked British pop band--that it released this spring (and that CM contributed to). Copper's output isn't purely Anglophilic, but in the case of Cotton Mather's new album, the point is moot. These lads apparently love all things British, from the obvious Beatles influences (just about everything, but especially "Homefront Cameo" and "Aurora Bori Alice") to the rarer tastes of XTC ("My Before and After") and Squeeze ("Church of Wilson," although their reading is a bit more distressed). They can, of course, take a Dylanesque tear at American roots-rock ("Vegetable Row," although the same strains show up diluted in other songs, like "Password"), but their hearts still wander Carnaby Street. However, they seem so much in love that you excuse them their indulgences. It's an old text they're reading from, but their elocution and enthusiasm are such that you hardly notice and barely mind.
An exceptionally clean and self-possessed slice of Americana pie, hanging out in the sun just this side of jangle. As with Cotton Mather, a cynic might note that the book this page is torn from has been in circulation for quite a while. The Mudville Nine may have found the copy that the Gear Daddies mislaid, but the band cribs from it with such affectionate determination that you'd really have to be having a bad day to mind. Vocalist Kim Vance has a strong, pure voice, and the group's whole mood--clearer-eyed than Slobberbone, less upset than the Old 97's, and carrying a lot less cynicism than older, more experienced bands like the Lucky Pierres or the Mutineers--is a welcome change.