A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 2, 2005
Why should I review Joe West? He does a good job himself of summing up his musical outlook on his new album The Human Cannonball, on a song called “Jam Bands in Colorado”
“I’m a country singer, a little punk rock ‘n’ roll, I got a beatnik poet somewhere in the soul …”West has earned his status as one of Santa Fe’s favorite singer/songwriters. His wry wit, laconic drawl and simple yet memorable country-soaked melodies provide an ongoing poignant -- and usually humorous -- of life in the southwest.
The Human Cannonball won’t disappoint old fans and hopefully will win him some new ones.
As usual, he’s got a good collection of musicians backing him up, including longtime crony Frank Rolla on banjo, Ben Wright (formerly of Mary & Mars) on guitar, and members of Frogville Records label mate Hundred Year Flood. On the banjo-driven stomper “Oklahoma Bound,” it sounds like everyone singing or playing is having the time of their lives.
There’s tunes of twisted love. The opening track, “The Combines Are Coming” an easy-paced hillbilly tune (that starts off with someone torching a trailer park) tells of an affair with a married woman. When the narrator asks about her wedding ring, the woman says her husband is working out of town. “And I love him more than you’ll ever know/But I’m not the type to kiss and tell.”
There’s tall tales like “Jimmy Joe the Wrangler,” the story of a “Philippino queen” who takes revenge on a group of Ted Nugent-loving redneck bullies in an Oklahoma bar.
There’s some sardonic topical songs that are fun, if relatively inconsequential. “Straight Man in a Gay World,” for instance. And there‘s “Jam Bands in Colorado” pokes fun of our northern neighbors’ String Cheese/Leftover Salmon neo-hippie scene. Some folks, he says have suggested West himself hook up with the jam banders. But he knows he wouldn‘t fit in. (Because he’s a country singer, a little punk rock ‘n’ roll …)
And there’s even 43 seconds of lo-fi political commentary called “Talkin’ Terror Yodel.” This offers sage foreign policy advice : “If you piss in the wind, it’s gonna come back at you.”
Since his earliest work, West has a wonderful knack at making fun of Santa Fe, its artistic pretensions and its realities that lurk beneath its hyped-up image. Sometimes he uses City Different images in a surreal way, such as in “Trotsky’s Blues,” in which he reports seeing the Russian revolutionary at Bert’s Burger Bowl.
In “Cowgirl Hall of Fame” West sings a slow, sweet tribute to one of his most frequent musical venues in town, even though the lyrics aren’t literally about the local bar and restaurant.
West likes to sing loving tributes to locals who can’t afford the proverbial “$2,000 Navajo Rug.” A few years ago he did Mike the Can Man, an entire E.P. about a local character who collects aluminum cans for recycling. On Cannonball, he signs of “Anita Pita,” about a single mom who vacuums art galleries for extra cash.
West, a veteran of the gospel brunch at the Cowgirl, ends Cannonball with a spiritual message. He might or might not be singing the song “Heaven” with a completely straight face, but I’d to think he’s sincere when he urges folks not to be jealous of successful friends or bitter about their own shortcomings because “Jesus and his angels are rootin’ for you.”
Not a complex message, but one worth hearing. I think Jesus is rooting for Joe West.
*Let’s Waste Another Evening by Josh Lederman y Los Diablos. Josh Lederman might just be the Joe West of Boston. I bet the two would have a lot to talk about.
Lederman’s band, with the Mexican-sounding name, has been described as the kings of “Jewish-Celtic Folk Punk.” Indeed, there’s an obvious Pogues influence here -- a prominent accordion and Irish-sounding melodies played rowdy but rarely sloppy.
They also can do rocked-out versions of other folk styles. The instrumental “Te Portki Tancuja” contains elements of Cajun music and polka.
But Lederman’s voice, which sounds like a hoarser version of John Linnell of They Might Be Giants, is one of the major draws.
He’s also a fine songwriter, telling stories of lost love and lost weekends.
“The Waltzing Ladies,” has a melody similar to “The Wildwood Flower” tells of poor girls gone wrong. “My Sweet Caroline” is an outright country kicker about “playing lots of cards and smoking cheap cigars” to get his mind off an absent lover.
“China Town,” probably the most Pogue-like song here, alternates between brutal and irresistible mandolin interludes. Lederman sings of heartache and debauchery, name checking Charles Bukowski in the process.
“Will I Miss the City” is a perfect album ender, about a ramblin’ guy about to pull up stakes.
“Will I sing the same songs over and over down the rail?/Will I find my way out when the rain has washed away the trail?/Will I ride the thunder, or come home slithering like a snail?/when the rain has gone and washed away the trail?”My favorite tune here is a cover of a traditional Irish outlaw song, “Newry Highwayman.” It’s the same basic story of “Brennan on the Moor” or “Wild Colonial Boy.” But this song has echoes of the funeral fantasies found in American jazz and blues tunes like “Saint James Infirmary” and “Dyin’ Crapshooter Blues.”
“And when I’m dead and in my grave/A fancy funeral please let me have/Six highwaymen to carry me/Oh give them broad swords and sweet liberty … Six pretty maiden to bear my pawl/Give them white roses and garlands all/And when I’m dead,they’ll speak the truth,/ He was a wild and wicked youth.”Indeed, this is a wild and wicked album.