archive review originally posted on the losing today site c. 2008 …..
DEATH ROW HOEDOWN
Ye-ha. We haven’t had this much fun since dear old Jello Biafra come in from the wilderness and hitched up his cart and donned his Stetson and spurs for some rollicking twisted rockabilly country roots punk with those wayward conscience prickers Mojo Nixon for the awesome ‘Prairie Home Invasion’. ‘Death Row Hoedown’ is the second release by Muleskinner Jones AKA James Closs following his debut ‘Terrible Stories’ (another release that sadly passed our eager radar) an alluring and irresistible swamp like campfire diet of murder ballads, hillbilly death chants, Hicksville voodoo blues and shadowy lit cowpunk.
Recorded on an Apple Power book. Okay that mightn’t sound so clever or for that matter in this age of ‘can do anything’ gadgetry, not to revolutionary. But then when you consider that this album consists mainly of the purist spirit of what would later manifest into rock ‘n’ roll, then it’s ironic that the modern should be so utilised to create the old.
From the safety of a rickety porch within the grounds of some overgrown Mississippi graveyard, the Muleskinner one spends the day scaring the village kids half to death with his ghost stories (‘Untitled – Wee Willy Winkie’), cometh witching hour the spirits of long dead blues-men are summoned up to sit, cackle and partake in a swig or two of vintage bourbon and a few rousing bars of the haunting ‘Come inside, Stranger’. While references to Waits (c. ‘Swordfishtrombones’) and Beefheart (‘Ice Cream for Crow’) aren’t lost (perhaps the mid way point to the two appearing in the form of the potent death rattling ‘Concrete Swamp’), Closs’ and therefore ‘Death Row Hoedown’s’ obvious affinity lies with the Palace Brothers, Handsome Family, Uncle Tupelo and Gallon Drunk. The ghost of the latter firmly encamped and hovering vulture like on the frenzied bloodied nose howl of the twisted psychosis within ‘Closing Theme’.
‘Death Row Hoedown’ takes to its bosom all things bluegrass and hillbilly, before you start groaning there’s a dark humour that sucks and bites the underside of these nine tracks that you only need investigate the title track ‘Death Row Hoedown’ to see for yourself. Like a possum pie prank stand off involving the Clampett’s and the Sawyer’s, Muleskinner Jones’ runs roughshod Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs style in a zombie line dance free for all. The tall stories and low lives racked ‘My rented room’ cleverly veers closely into Half Man Half Biscuit’s ‘Trumpton’ territories but falls at the feet of the noire-ishly anthemic toe tapping 8-minute ‘Truckstop Funeral’ where amid the brooding backdrops, spontaneous wigged out flips, Cathal Coughlan-esque vocals, tortured twangs and jet powered changes in tempo the crucial answer to the question of where trucks go to die still eludes. Kinda pisses over CW McCall’s ‘Convoy’ with kerosene urine and rightly so. Guaranteed to put a spell on you, ‘Death Row Hoedown’ is quite possibly one of the coolest records that’ll grace your Hi-Fi this year.