[11 August 2006]
You can’t judge a book by its cover, goes the old adage, and it’s probably just as true to say that one can’t judge a CD by its cover versions. Still, checking out what songs a band decides to record and what approach gets taken can prove illuminating. This seems especially true of those on the new album by the Texas punk bluegrass group, the Meat Purveyors. These mofos have always had an ear for the weird and the chops to pull it off. Their latest offers a virtual smorgasbord of choices. The Meat Purveyors self-penned tracks on Someday Soon Things Will Be Much Worse! are killer, but first, lets look at the non-original songs selected…
The Meat Purveyors have taken pop rock schlock and turned them into straight bluegrass-style fodder before. This serves two functions: it exposes the downright banality of hit record lyrics and thumbs one’s nose at the sanctimoniousness of country music purists. The band’s rendition of Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” serves as a case in point. Pete Stiles fiercely plucks his mandolin while Bill Anderson lays down guitar licks like an artist with too much paint on the palette and Cherilyn DiMond slaps the upright bass silly. Jo Walston obliviously sings the meaningless cock rock boasts as if they actually sounded macho (“C’mon baby, can you do more than dance”). The pleasure of being stupid strongly comes across, yee-haw.
The Meat Purveyors do more than take cheap shots at easy targets. At the other end of the musical spectrum is the band’s version of country boy John Conlee’s classic “Rose-Colored Glasses”. Walston croons it with an ache in her voice as the group provides a gentle accompaniment. At times, Walston slows down the singing so much that it almost becomes a monologue on unrequited love. The band plays this with sincerity instead of for laughs. The Meat Purveyors also tweak Human League’s synth pop standard “Don’t You Want Me Baby” into a true country duet that wouldn’t sound out of place sung by Johnny and June or Nancy and Lee. The group even makes the Monkees’ “Circle Sky” into a romping ballad that would fit right in a Western movie soundtrack.
As for the Meat Purveyors’ treatment of Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City”, Walston may not sound as mean and tough as the Coal Miner’s Daughter, but you still wouldn’t want to fuck with her. Walston comes across as the kind of gal who would clobber you with a chair when your back is turned. She carefully annunciates each word to let you know she’s serious.
The cover songs are interspersed among the eight original tracks and fit right in because of the terrific musical talents of the band members. The Meat Purveyors write songs about drinking, bad love, death, and other dark country music topics and put them in interesting contexts. For example, the upbeat “666 Pack” does a great job of combing Jordannaires-type white gospel harmonies with lyrics about the need for booze to ease one’s soul. This cut and the band’s other tunes contain lots of snappy aphorisms (“Sometimes it’s hard to walk the straight line before wrong and right / A uniformed policeman made me do the very thing last night”) that consistently reward the listener with unexpected verbal surprises. Other tunes of note are the turbocharged “Liquor Store”, the sly, nasty put-downs of “Look on Your Face”, and the scornful anti-Bush political diatribe, “Plates a Spinnin’”. Each of these songs are very different from each other on a surface level of tone, style, and subject but sound uniquely like Meat Purveyor tunes. If one’s heard any of the group’s music before, one could easily identify the tracks on this album as Meat Purveyors material.
The Meat Purveyors also go electric for the first time on a few tunes here. This doesn’t come across as a radical change as it’s incorporated into the band’s usual style. The electric sound is most notable on “Hanged Man”, a new version of the song they originally recorded acoustically on a previous album. Here the electricity helps create a current of tension, so to speak, in a place where things literally go bump in the night. The listener can’t help but get jumpy by the time the narrator puts a pistol in her mouth.
With all the crap going on in the world today, the album’s title, Someday Soon Things Will Be Much Worse!, may seem more obvious than prescient. If the band’s prediction is right, at least we will have the solace of one additional cultural artifact to enjoy before the shit hits the fan. And the Meat Purveyors have shown us by example how to take somebody else’s tunes and make them our own.