Time for another 2009 Best Of Review! Sadly all I had was a digital copy to review and it somehow got erased before I could archive it forever. Time to shell out a few bucks, I suppose.
Pennsylvania’s “The Minor White”, named after a famous photographer, first caught my ear with the song “Go To Hell.” I’ve heard many songs by this unoriginal title and all of them have been angry missives full of thunderous drums and heavy guitars. But not the one by The Minor White. Instead the sound is subdued and mysterious, very much like “Blue Jay Way” by The Beatles but with a “Your Mother Should Know” piano part. The song smolders listlessly for most of its brief life, resigned to its fate before igniting into nearly two minutes of musical majesty led to conclusion by a fiery electric guitar.
Many of the other tracks on Old Theatrics also include a variety of parts that would normally seem jarring in being paired together. While many is the time when just such odd combinations have brought a smile to my face in this case it all fits so well, seamlessly flowing from one style to another, that you barely notice the change has occurred. And the fact that somehow these magicians can conjure these transformations in a brief 3.5 minute song only adds to their mystique. “Fever Scene,” for instance, opens with a landscape of sustained guitar chords and organs before becoming a jaunty happy spring day of a tune with light electric guitar and spritely drums, culminating in an uplifting folksy protest song a mere 3:33 from it’s inception.
Every song sports topnotch songwriting, incorporating to-die-for melodies with succinct instrumentation and lyrics that would make our own Vandolah proud. “Old Fashioned Drinker (In A River Of Gum)” is a nostalgic trip with melancholic vocals and sweet strings with such stream of consciousness lyrics as “I’m a straight-jacket jester in a cellar of gold”. “Money For Puppets” opens with only voice, a lone kick drum, and barely a guitar before bringing in the Everly Brothers and Randy Newman for a lurching, breezy rhythm sure to set your foot a’tapping. Despite obvious influences of Elliot Smith and Bob Dylan these merry melody makers somehow manage to blend in Wilco and Radiohead, even bringing in early Pink Floyd in for “Vaudeville”, sitting nicely beside upright bass, banjo, and violins that evoke a half-time feel of a bygone era.
Old Theatrics by The Minor White is an intoxicating mixture of opposites: folk instruments and electric guitars, vaudeville elements and modern music, a lonely feel couched in comforting warmth, acoustic and electronic living together in tension-filled harmony. Put on your brown derby and check out this collection of impressive songwriting with that new-fangled internets.