[18 August 2013]
The Austin Lounge Lizards are a hell of a great band—or they used to be, anyway. When the live album Lizard Vision hit the college-radio airwaves back in 1992, listeners were delighted with such uproarious bluegrass ditties as “He’s Just a Friend”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lawyer”, and stone cold classic “Jesus Loves Me (But He Can’t Stand You}”. All this was in addition to such nuggets as the instrumental “Leapin’ Lizards” and a hoedown version of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” from Dark Side of the Moon—ie, “The lunatic is on the grass”, etc. Subsequent releases like Paint Me On Velvet weren’t quite so surprising, or effortless, but there were still good tunes to be had, like “Put the Oak Ridge Boys in the Slammer” and “That Godforsaken Hellhole I Call Home”. More than just a novelty act, the Lizards were fine musicians in their own right, whose fluid harmonies and lightning-quick picking just served to make their songs’ many punch lines that much more delicious.
Alas, what a difference twenty-odd years makes. Home and Deranged is the band’s latest offering, and it’s a pretty tired one. Having moved away from their core competence (bluegrass) and suffered through some shifting personnel—founding member and banjoist Tom Pittman retired from the band a couple years ago—the Lizards here offer a mixed bag of tunes, few of which are memorable.
The problems start right away, with “Enough About Me”, a satirical look at the swollen egos of country music stars. Well, okay, that might be funny, but in this case and in this place—leading off the album—the glacially-paced tune falls flat. This is followed by “Spelunking With Big Jim Carasco”, a song about… I don’t really know what. Incorporating Latin sounds and rhythms does make for an interesting change-up to the standard Lizard sound, but it’s never a good thing when your listener doesn’t quite understand the joke. Hey, maybe it’s me.
Things turn around for the next two songs, easily the funniest on the record. “I Lied” is a satiric country & western ballad about an unreliable groom who lies to his bride on their wedding day, and doesn’t stop anytime soon. It’s a punchy, pithy and note-perfect take on the genre it spoofs. “My Bonnie Johnson” is essentially a dirty joke that goes on for three minutes sixteen seconds—hey, nothing wrong with that—and again shows the band’s versatility as they pursue a fiddle-heavy, faux-British-Isles-traditional sound. If, like me, you appreciate a good dick joke, this tune will be right up your alley. So to speak!
Sadly, that’s about it for highlights. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Darcy Deaville lends her thin voice to “Thank You For Touching Me There”, which manages the unlikely feat of being simultaneously smutty and boring, as well as to the one-joke “If I Saw You All the Time” and the unmemorable “Who Needs You?”. These tunes hew more to folk than country or bluegrass, and happen to be among the weakest on the album. Coincidence?
Much as it pains me to say it, it might be time for the Austin Lounge Lizards to call it a day. When I say them live in Tucson in 1993, they were a fireball of energy and joy, but they seem to have grown tired over the years. Devoted fans will want to cull this release for nuggets, but most everyone else will be satisfied with Lizard Vision and, perhaps, one or two other records from that era.