Slobberbone – Crow Pot Pie

Crow Pot Pie (1996)

B+

1. Sober Song 2. Whiskey Glass Eye 3. No Man Among Men 4. Shoot You Dead 5. I Can Tell Your Love Is Waning 6. Ruin Your Day 7. Stumblin’ 8. 16 Days 9. Little Sister 10. Tilt-A-Whirl 11. Dunk You in the River

 

This isn’t a novelty album, I swear! OK, yeah, the title is a gross-out poop joke and the best song on the album is also about smelling shit and the band’s name is a dumb joke about an animal known for shitting everywhere but… um… you know, it never really dawned on me until just now how scatalogical this album is. But hey, even Shakespeare made fart jokes. Therefore, by the transitive property, Brent Best is the modern day Shakespeare. In this way, Donald Trump is basically Abraham Lincoln because they’re both known for wearing hats.

Sigh. I’d riff more on Trump/Lincoln but I find Trump jokes so boring and pointless. His mere existence is already such a complete mockery of himself, the presidency, the United States, and humanity itself that I find all comedy about him to be completely superfluous. Besides, no one will be laughing in a few months when we’ve all perished in a nuclear holocaust and Trump is standing on rubble yelling at cockroaches about Hillary’s emails. So I hereby declare a personal moratorium on Trump jokes. A big, beautiful moratorium. And a very stable one at that!

OK, sorry about that. Starting now.

I will admit that if you were to pick this thing up at a used record store or something (pfft, like those even exist anymore) and just glance at the front and back covers, you’d probably assume it was some kind of novelty thing. Not unlike the first couple Drive-By Truckers albums. And like those DBT albums, there’s a lot of depth beneath the surface. In fact, if you were to read some of these lyrics on the page, free of context and with some of the goofier one-liners about cattle trucks and mangy blue-tick hounds and Wal-Mart parking lots redacted, you might assume this is a really dark record. It’s full of death, crippling alcoholism, domestic violence, broken relationships, more death, and killer carnival rides. However, on Crow Pot Pie at least, Slobberbone embrace the absurd and ribald far more readily than DBT ever has, delivering their tales of misery and woe with shit-eating grins rather than gritted teeth.

That begins with the guitars which are devilishly loud and… I was gonna say sloppy, but they’re not really. They’re tight as hell. Mike Hill’s solos are impressively fast; Brent’s rhythm guitar parts are heavy as bulldozers. They’re just so blisteringly overdriven a lot of the time they might fool you into thinking that this is an unskilled punk band. Couple that with the at times deliberately rudimentary snare-on-every-beat hoedown drumming, Brent’s shouty, red-faced delivery, and a song or two that sound like straight-up electrified hillbilly music (“Shoot You Dead” especially), they play with such a mischievous air of irreverence it’s hard not to crack a smile no matter what despicable act Brent is opining about committing.

The first half of Crow Pot Pie is pretty much perfect, somehow balancing deathly serious subject matter with a tone that just fun as hell, even flippant. It’s no way to live your life, but it’s an intoxicating state of mind to inhabit for 20 minutes. Brent’s writing about basically the same stuff he would on the next couple of Slobberbone albums, and he would do so much more eloquently going forward, but never again so gregariously or impishly. The first two songs, for instance are about prioritizing booze over your partner, a theme that comes up troublingly often in Slobberbone songs: “They’re thinkin’ I should just move on, give up the wine and beer/But drinkin’ ain’t the only reason that I loved you, dear/So why should I give up the only thing I like to do?/There’s just no gettin’ sober over you” (from “Sober Song”). Sounds dire on the page, but with the guitars kicking up shit, in practice, it sounds positively joyous. Then we get a couple of songs (“Shoot You Dead” and “I Can Tell Your Love is Waning”) about relationships that crash and burn so hard that the latter ends with someone “lying in the bathtub with blood all in your hair.” It’s difficult for me to overstate how much I love the fact that this relationship is described during the chorus with the ingenious metaphor, “Like getting caught behind a cattle truck and all you smell is shit.” Even without that line, “Waning” is a powerful, epic slow burner, and one of the very best songs Slobberbone ever did. Then the first side wraps up with “Ruin Your Day,” a bright, catchy pounder that hints at the power pop influence that would eventually come to define Brent’s songwriting more and more.

Unfortunately, there’s a very noticeable shift in tone on the second half of the album wherein the music is suddenly as serious and dour as the lyrical matter might seem to be. Brent would get really good at writing depressing murder ballads real quick, but for now, the songs just aren’t quite there, and the attempted dramatic tone is sort of undercut by what had come earlier on the album. “Stumblin’” and “Little Sister” are merely sullen and comparatively uncatchy (though the former does have a nice chorus to contrast with the sludgy verses). But the album’s only truly colossal misstep is “16 Days,” a drab rewrite of “I Can Tell Your Love is Waning” that lacks its predecessor’s catchy chorus (or any other type of melodic hook, for that matter) and witty turns of phrase and yet drags on for over ten inexplicable minutes. I’ll admit that these songs, while underdeveloped, point clearly toward the even greater things to come for Slobberbone. Still, thank Gob for the closing palate cleanser, the cute acoustic sing-along “Dunk You in the River,” complete with adorably amateurish harmonica and mandolin solos and a return to the first half’s playful spirit – is the title refrain about a baptism or drowning someone to death? Hint: it’s the latter. When it comes to Slobberbone, always choose the most murderous option.



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