[26 September 2008]
Scranton’s And the Moneynotes may seem to have something missing from their name, but their album New Cornucopia lacks nothing. A concise medley of country, surf, R&B, jazz, swing, and rock and roll, the album segues through several genres yet retains a cohesive identity and sound. And the Moneynotes, a troupe of sailors, merchants, and professionals, began as Dr. Horsemachine and the Moneynotes. Their name stands as homage to the good doctor. A legend involving clever pseudonyms and the extrication of song material from the ghostly brain vat of Dr. Horsemachine follows but is too long to go into here.
Featuring the songwriting of Mitchell Williams (acoustic guitar), New Cornucopia really is what its name suggests: a bit of everything. Rather than sounding like a mish mash of this and that, though, the album flows with a hootenanny roll. The band clearly had a blast recording the tracks, as is evidenced with the crowd background noise and general celebratory swagger. Williams and Manny Quinn (electric guitar) split the lead singing between the two. Their loose vocal delivery is echoed by jaunty instrumentation. The first track, “Wait I Get Ya”, sounds like a junk band drinking song with washboard (Brian Craig) and various percussive textures. What sounds like a band of boorish, drunken pirates sings the refrain after Coleman Smith’s violin and Roy “Norge” Williams’ piano send the piece into a double time fiddle and space frenzy. Despite the informal vibe, the vocal harmonies are on point.
Epic “What Brings You Here” starts as a relaxed, slowed-down song that winds tension and build-up like a clock. A brief release occurs about half-way through the piece, but the momentum abruptly stops and returns to the walking pace (andante) with which it began. Passionate vocals and disparate harmonies make this piece one of the more dramatic on the disc. Rather than finding a resolution within the song, however, the song fizzles out, making way for 1960s surf tune “An Offering”. Instead of being anti-climactic, the move merely postpones the pinnacle until the final track, brilliant “Hornaplenny”.
Standout tracks may be hard to pinpoint given the quality of each track appearing on the album. After 30-some listens, though, “My Kid Smokin” still has contagious effervescence and some of the best vocal harmonies on the album. The refrain, “Ohio, she don’t sing no praises / Ohio, she don’t like my friends / I got some kind of friends” is the most infectious and boisterous set of lines in the song. Some of the particular harmonies are poignant enough to draw tears, even in the middle of the bustling sing-a-long. The piece, a full-force hoe-down replete with blues harmonica, utilizes old-time vernacular in a feel-good, good time tune. What sounds like a grimalkin (an old, ratty female cat, for those unfamiliar) kicks off the hopping bass-line (by Pat Finnerty) and gathering crowd. The grimalkin actually says “Lamdlam”, a vocal response used throughout the song (and in old blues tunes). In this piece, the piano embraces its role as percussive element. Quinn’s intermittent electric guitar notes provide another center for the rocking rhythm.
Finally, the aforementioned “Hornaplenny” concludes the album with the story of a town that has one of everything. “They got one bad guy, one fat guy, one virgin, one hooker / One suit and everybody’s tryin’ to use it” are but some of the witty lines in the song. True to the name, the song includes one of each of the previous great album elements. There’s hand clapping, a driving bass-line, smooth violin and hopping fiddle, exquisite vocal harmonies, and junk percussion among many other things. This final song reiterates what the whole album does. Throughout this smattering of influences and components, And the Moneynotes have a sound that is wholly their own.