In 2001, husband and wife duo, Tim Kelley and Christa Meyer, dropped their impressive Puerto Muerto debut, ...Your Bloated Corpse Has Washed Ashore. Brimming with funeral marches and pirate songs, it was an impressive first outing but went largely under the radar as it was released by Action Driver, a label more known for its post-hardcore bands. I anxiously awaited their follow up, only to be disappointed by the sophomore effort, the Elena EP. Finally, three years later, Puerto Muerto have released their second proper full-length See You in Hell.
Abandoning the kitschy elements of their debut, See You in Hell is a more focused affair. In honing their vision, Puerto Muerto have shed some of the recklessness that made their first outing so memorable. The change in attitude is somewhat off-putting at first, however the maturity found on See You in Hell is welcoming.
"Atlantic City" kicks off the CD, and already Puerto Muerto make it clear things are going to be different this time around. More of a story than an actual song, the track is eerily reminiscent of Tom Waits, and could've been an outtake from the Frank's Wild Years. "Chapayev's Machine Gunners" is a rousing bar band rocker that succeeds in the simplicity and honesty of its delivery. With minimal guitars, the song propelled by succinctly dry percussion and call and response vocals, "Walking Boss" is a modern reworking of the traditional song and is easily the disc's highlight. The only misstep is the reggae influenced, "Babylon". It sounds tremendously out of place and the vocally delivered "dub effects" at the beginning of the song are frankly embarrassing.
In an age of slicked out barely 20-year-old hipsters, primped and preened pre-teens dominating airwaves, it is heartening to see a return to traditional American song, particularly in the indie rock community. 2004 is already shaping up to quite a year to celebrate with new releases by Iron & Wine and Devendra Banhart already finding their way to turntables across the nation. Nina Nastasia's stunning and until now, extremely limited debut Dogs will find a release this summer on Touch and Go and Banhart will drop another full length of his eccentric folk outings this fall.
What makes the aforementioned acts and Puerto Muerto so utterly refreshing is the obvious reference they have for their source material. There is no ironic posturing or knowing winks to be heard. Instead audiences are treated as smart and literate and the performances are honest, which in these days of prefabricated and prepackaged music is a rare thing.
See You in Hell isn't by any means groundbreaking, but it is a sincere and well-executed effort. That Tim Kelley and Christa Meyer have been working in relative obscurity for this long is criminal. Here's hoping that Fire and their American distributors Darla will get up and get the word out so fans of alt-folk-Americana won't have to wait until the afterlife to See You in Hell.