Shotgun Party,
Mean Old Way
(independent, 2009)

The Austin-based acoustic trio Shotgun Party doesn't entirely elude classification, but it comes close. Whatever it is -- a cracked 21st-century take on Western swing probably gets nearest -- it's weird and wild, in the old Johnny Carson catchphrase. Mostly, though, it's music, literally and metaphorically, to jaded ears. It's also a high-wire act, something that couldn't go the distance without exceptional musical chops, bracingly unhesitant vocals and songwriting of a high order.

The repertoire draws largely on guitarist/singer Jenny Parrott's endearingly odd, usually jazz-drenched originals. The songs go pretty much anywhere except in the direction you anticipate they're heading. In "Run N Hide," for example, she fires hot lead at a band member who criticizes her songs, then kisses him passionately. In the same song: "On the mornings I wake up to broken glass / It's like last night's love sure sat at the back of the class."

"Meet You on the Trail" gives one the disorienting sense that it's about buffalo hunting on acid. In the title song there's this: "In my mean old way / I'm coming home to you." The CD has a couple of songs that express something approximating conventional romantic sentiments, maybe.

Think a little of the Roches's worldview, but not too much. If the Roches are very New York, Shotgun Party is Texas, or anyway the best (as opposed to the, um, other) part of Texas, which is to say the place that's given us some of the finest music ever produced in America. Party appears to have taken it all in, stealing off with Lone Star blues, jazz, country and Tex-Mex, and returned bearing something with disconcertingly, if always pleasurably, shifting identities. It is with relief that one hears the occasional straightforward piece, such as the superbly executed version of the traditional fiddle tune "Draggin' the Bow."

Besides Parrott, Shotgun Party's regular line-up consists of the excellent Katy Rose Cox (formerly of the Brooklyn-based neo-oldtime band The Maybelles) and the more than able stand-up bassist Chris Crepps. Country-blues slide-guitarist Steve James and clarinetist Stanley Smith make periodic guest appearances. All told, it is indeed a party to remember, but be warned: the shotgun is loaded.

review by
Jerome Clark

17 October 2009

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