Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan: Life and Death (And Almost Everything Else)
One-third funny haha, one-third funny strange, and another third poignant and sad.
All the press on this record, and the sticker on its front cover, says this country duo was "Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood...on acid!" But that's not really true. First of all, Nancy and Lee were probably already on acid (haha, joke, don't sue us). Secondly, Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan come from an entirely different place in music history. (Namely, Coral Gables. It's in Florida.)
Jack was the auteur, the introspective genre-genius with the brooding look and the huge pimped-out 1970s dark glasses. Misty was the sweet-voiced siren who helped him with melodies, harmonies, and looking good on the album cover. Together, they made a whole bunch of songs, but no one's ever heard more than a couple of them, because Jack and Misty didn't find the magic on the country charts all that often. (Their best-known song, the 1970 crossover hit "Tennessee Bird Walk", is familiar to me somehow, maybe from Dr. Demento listening sessions when I was a kid, but that's about it.)
This CD has 29 tracks. About a third of them are funny haha and another third are funny strange and the third third are poignant and sad. I wouldn't give top vocalist prize to either one individually, but their voices always sound pretty danged good together. That is probably why there aren't a lot of back-and-forth duets here, which is good, because that well goes dry pretty quickly. They both attack a song, and back each other up, letting the words and the tunes speak for themselves.
And ye gods, what words, and what tunes! Jack Blanchard was some kind of songwriting talent, is all I have to say. The novelty songs here are the ones all the hipsters will be blasting at this summer's barbecues, and rightly so. We get the silly stupid fun of "Humphrey the Camel" ("One big drink and he's a seven-day swinger"), the sillier, stupider fun of "Yellow Bellied Sapsucker" ("Like a yellow bellied sapsucker sippin from a eucalyptus tree / I feel like a sap since you made a sucker out of me"), and the silliest stupidest funnest song I've heard in many years, "The Legendary Chicken Fairy" (see if you can guess what this one's about). And that's not even discussing the hugely offensive and very funny "chubby-chaser" saga "How I Lost 31 Pounds in 17 Days," perhaps mercifully.
But Jack and Misty could do spooky just as easily: "Chapel Hill" is a jaunty little number narrated by a dead man moldering in the grave, and "The Clock of St. James" is a jaunty, zippy little number, which turns out to be full of guilt and shadows and a cold-blooded murder committed randomly for just "a dollar and a dime." Jack was never averse to letting his metaphors run wild. In one song, the couple compares their love to "the shadow of a big black bird" -- not your usual first thought, there -- and in another, we are blitzed by weather imagery, only to learn why the singer sounds so sad in a single couplet: "We paid a judge our last ten dollars to bless us with his legal seal / I guess that puttin' love on paper doesn't always make it real."
That's the thing with this album, you're always getting blindsided. Just when you think you have Jack & Misty pegged as a novelty act, they come up with brilliant depressive anthems like "There Must Be More to Life (Than Growin' Old)". Then, when you think, okay, they've got two tricks, they come and hit you with baroque early-1970s rondo pop like "The Dum Song", filled with great stuff like, "Just because you know the words don't mean you can sing / Just because you wear a crown don't make you a king / Just because it's in the phone book don't make it ring." And then BLAM, you're back to something crazy like "Fire Hydrant #79" or "If Eggs Had Legs". (If I have one criticism, it's that they kept going back to their best songs to do more just like them. On the other hand, the copy of an awesome song is usually just as good as the hallowed "original," so it's actually a good thing.)
These songs are unknowable, like Buddha, and completely untethered to the world, like Chuang Tzu, and deep as that puddle in the playground that that one kid fell into and never returned. I'll be rocking this at my own hipster barbecues this summer, except I'm gonna play the serious slow sad sweet beautiful songs and make everyone all contemplative and philosophical...or maybe I'll start out with "I'm Washin' Harry Down the Sink" first. Either way, it's gonna be awesome. We're having veggie burgers and watching the World Cup, BYOB.