New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: country music

A Talented Country Band Deliver a Tight Saturday Night Set in Williamsburg

After the hottest Saturday of the summer, it’s raining hard in Manhattan. But the full force of the storm hasn’t reached Williamsburg yet. Inside Skinny Dennis, it’s so packed that it’s impossible to get to the bar.

On one hand, just getting to be part of any crowd at all after the sadistic divide-and-conquer of the past sixteen months should be reason to celebrate. Instead, it feels weird. Going from being the youngest person in the audience at Lincoln Center in the early spring of 2020. to being just about the oldest person at Skinny Dennis on a Saturday night a little more than a year later, is sobering. Especially if you’re the only sober person in the joint.

OK, maybe not the only sober person. The bartenders don’t seem liquored up, and Pierre Jelenc – who publishes the Gigometer, a resource this blog has relied on for years to find Americana artists and singer-songwriters playing out-of-the-way spaces – is in the house. His presence speaks well for the band. But maybe he’s here because the small room at the Rockwood, his old home base, doesn’t have music anymore.

Low Roller are onstage, and they’re talented. And tight: they obviously spent the lockdown refining their chops. Singers Veronica Davila and Ron Muga each play Telecasters for double the clang and twang of your usual honkytonk band. Their pedal steel player, hidden out of view past the drums, is excellent, choosing spots for washes of sound or high lonesome harmonies. Drummer Daryl Cozzi swings hard and bassist Derek Weaving plays a Hofner with a pick, at one point moving down the scale through an agilely flatpicked bluegrass solo in an unexpectedly low register.

They’re playing covers, taking turns on lead vocals; the whole band seems to be singing harmonies. Considering how much energy and inspired riffage they’re giving the material, it would be cool to hear them play their own songs. But Skinny Dennis is known as a cover bar, and nobody seems to mind. This could be a college crowd in the white part of Atlanta – or maybe in fact it is that exact same college crowd, except that they all live here now.

The band indulge them in not one but two John Prine tunes, the second one an impressively low-key, seething take of Paradise, his environmentalist broadside about the Kentucky coal industry. The sound is surprisingly good, although it would be great to hear more of Davila’s soulful voice in the mix. Muga slings off a handful of slinky solos down to his low E string, almost as if he’s playing a baritone guitar. The rhythm section bubbles, the steel simmers overhead and the crowd are hell-bent on getting their drink on.

Such is the hottest ticket among all possible performances that a music blog can cover in New York on this particular Saturday night in July of 2021. Low Roller are at Mama Tried, 147 27th St. in Bay Ridge on Aug 5 at 7 PM; take the R to 25th St.

Familiar, Heartwarming Faces in Friendly New Places

Music in New York is in a really weird place right now. We’re in the midst of the biggest market correction this city has ever seen. Part of that, the abrupt destruction of so many independent venues and the complete annihilation of what was left of the rock scene, is tragic.

But part of this market correction is long overdue.

As this blog predicted as far back as the mid-teens, we’re seeing a quiet explosion of community-based, artist-run spaces, most of them quasi-legal or even less so. That’s where audiences went during the lockdown. The corporate model they replaced is dead in the water. Seriously: does anyone think that the Mercury Lounge, with its apartheid door policy where proof of taking one of the deadly needles is required to get in, is going to survive the year?

In the meantime, the surviving off-the-beaten-path places are thriving. If you work or live in the Financial District, you might know Cowgirl Seahorse. It’s a friendly taco-and-beer joint at the far edge of the South Street Seaport at the corner of where Front Street meets the extension of Peck Slip. Since reopening, they’ve expanded their original Monday night Americana series to sometimes twice a week, and who knows how far they could take that.

It was heartwarming to the extreme to catch honkytonk band the Bourbon Express there over the Fourth of July weekend. With their signature guy/girl vocals and Bakersfield-style twang, they were prime movers in the scene at the original Hank’s before that place finally bit the dust at the end of 2018. This latest version of the band is just a trio, husband-and-wife team Brendan and Katie Curley on guitars along with their bassist holding down the groove.

Brendan is a twangmeister, and so is Katie, but on vocals rather than guitar since she plays acoustic (when she’s not playing the concert harp on their albums). The resulting blend of voices is one of the most distinctive sounds in country: imagine Waylon Jennings duetting with Amy Allison. This set was mostly covers, which was unusual for them, but it showed their roots.

The best number of the night was Jukebox in My Heart, Katie’s fond tribute to the joys of vintage vinyl. A brief, no-nonsense version of Vern Gosdin’s Set ‘Em Up Joe was a perfect example of how deep these two dig for their inspiration.

Brendan ran his Telecaster through a flange for period-perfect 70s ambience in a countrified take of Danny O’Keefe’s 1969 pillhead lament Goodtime Charlie’s Got the Blues. Katie sometimes sings with a vibrato you could drive a semi-truck through, so it was almost funny that she held back on that during her take of Freddy Fender’s Until the Next Teardrop Falls. They made their way soulfully from the 50s through the 70s with songs by Buck Owens and Emmylou Harris, along with a robust version of Soulful Shade of Blue by Buffy Sainte-Marie and a totally Nashville gothic Jolene. With the easygoing crew behind the bar, shockingly good sound and a steady stream of delivery orders moving out the front door, it was almost as if this was 2014 and this was the old Lakeside Lounge.

Then the next weekend Serena Jost played a solo show at the Five Myles gallery in Bed-Stuy. In almost twenty years, it’s been a hotspot for adventurous jazz, hip-hop and dance as well as art that reflects the neighborhood’s gritty past a lot more than its recent whitewashing. Jost fits in perfectly. Most cello rockers don’t play solo shows, but cello rock is unconventional by definition and so is Jost. Throughout a tantalizingly brief show singing to the crowd gathered out front on the street, she aired out her lustrous, soaring voice, an instrument that’s just as much at home singing Bach cantatas as it is with her own enigmatic, enticingly detailed, riff-driven songs.

In recent years, the onetime founding member of Rasputina has found a much more minimalist focus, perfect for playing solo (she switched to acoustic guitar for a couple of numbers). Still, it was the most epic, ornate material that was the most breathtaking, most notably a subtly undulating, singalong take of the big, triumphant anthem Great Conclusions and an aptly majestic, absolutely gothic, sometimes stygian new song inspired by the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Jost spent the lockdown by writing up a storm of new material, something we’ll hopefully get to see more of, most likely at spaces like this one.

The Bourbon Express Bring a Honkytonk Party to Lower Manhattan This Weekend

This may be the weirdest and scariest year in the history of live music, but not everything that’s happening is weird and scary. And some of those weird happenings are actually reason for a lot of optimism. For example, what’s the likelihood that a fantastic hard honkytonk band – with a singer whose original axe is the concert harp – would be playing a cozy taco-and-beer joint at the northern edge of the South Street Seaport over the 4th of July weekend?

No joke – the Bourbon Express are making a return to the stage at the friendly, laid-back Cowgirl Seahorse at 259 Front St. this July 5 at 7 PM. There’s no cover, although tips for the band are always welcome.

The last time this blog was in the house at one of their shows, it was in the spring of 2018 at the old Hank’s, where they were playing the album release show for their most recent one Cry About It Later. What a fun evening that was – what’s better than a hot night with a cold pint in one hand and a pretty girl snuggled up next to you while a good country band is cooking onstage? It’s the kind of memory we used to take for granted – and maybe we need to remind ourselves that moments like that need to be more than just memories.

That the Bourbon Express kept the crowd on their feet after a sizzling, twang-rich set by the jangly, psychedelic Girls on Grass speaks volumes. Lead guitarist Brendan Curley is a master of twang himself, and fired off one incisive, tantalizingly short solo after another on his Telecaster. Meanwhile, frontwoman Katie Curley showed off her own chops on acoustic guitar in front of the band, singing with more power and edge than ever. And her songs were really funny.

The best one of the night was Five to Nine, an exasperated and spot-on gig economy-era narrative told from the point of view of a girl whose entitled boss seems to think he can pester her about work at nine at night after she’s been on the clock all day. This was two years before the lockdown, but Curley totally nailed the kind of dynamic you get when authority figures who don’t have the balls to confront you in person are at the other end of the Zoom connection.

Other songs were funny for different reasons. Curley celebrated the joys of daydrinking and cooking with a glass of wine in hand in Dilly Dally, and the oldschool, retro 50s flavored Blame It on the Hangover. The rhythm section swung hard and the crowd kept drinking: Hank’s was in Brooklyn, and the bandleader is from Seattle originally, so the band don’t exactly channel a deep south vibe. Instead, Curley’s aphoristic lyrics and soaring voice were closer to something coming out of Bakersfield around 1965. Considering how many bands have been scattered across the country, and the world, by the lockdown, it’s awfully cool to see this group still together and playing.

Revisiting Classic, Purist Americana and Bluegrass From Martha Spencer

Martha Spencer sings in a high soprano voice with lonesome country vibrato, backed by an inspired, thoughtful blend of flatpicked guitar, banjo, fiddle and bass. That description could fit thousands and thousands of Americana songbirds, but Spencer sings and writes from the point of view of someone who grew up immersed in classic country and bluegrass music with her  family’s Virginia group, the Whitetop Mountain Band. Her 2018 debut album as a solo artist is still up at Bandcamp. The sound is totally 1950s, whether she’s doing oldschool C&W, bluegrass, a blues or a ballad. She winds a good yarn and has a sharp sense of humor.

She and the band – a shifting cast that include but are not limited to guitarists Frank Rische and Ersel Fletcher,, bassist Debbie Bramer, fiddler Billy Hurt, Jr and banjo player Alex Leach –  open the album with Blue Ridge Mountain Lullaby, a fond childhood reminiscence of falling asleep while the ‘rents are playing all the old songs. My Heart Says Yes is a simple, catchy mashup of bluegrass and indie rock: totally Hoboken, 1996. Spencer’s voice takes on extra bite, way up the scale in the rockabilly tune Hard Headed Woman, amped up with growling electric guitar and spiraling electric honkytonk piano.

Spencer blends Patsy Cline nuance and Dolly Parton plaintiveness in the aching, sad ballad The Last Leaves. After that the band pick up the pace in Let the Wild Stay Free, a smartly aphoristic bluegrass tune.

When Spencer bends her way up to those blue notes in Chickens Coming Home to Roost Tonight, it’s clear she means business, echoed by the understatedly slashing bluesy guitar solo.  She keeps that strong-willed point of view front and center in Rambling Woman: over spiky banjo and fiddle, she makes it clear she’s not ready to settle down.

Wishful Thinking comes across as an Appalachian flavored acoustic take on a peak era 40s/50s Kitty Wells-style ballad. After that, Spencer flips the script with Ruby, a spare, rustic Virginia reel. Then she and the band slow things down again with Cold Winter Lingers On, a classic C&W breakup duet spiced with pedal steel and countrypolitan guitar.

They bring up the energy again with the oldtime country gospel tune Jonah and follow that with the wry hillbilly boogie No Help Wanted.

Tree of Heaven is deceptively pretty: it turns out to be Spencer’s Don’t Fear the Reaper. She winds up the album with the brisk banjo tune Rambling Hobo. Fans of real, purist country and bluegrass – the genuine article, not the legions of indie rock boys trying to wrap their dainty fingers around acoustic instruments – will love this stuff.

Classic, Purist, Smartly Crafted Country Sounds From the Shootouts

The Shootouts are a throwback to the glory days of classic 1950s and 60s country music, with uncluttered 21st century production values. Their songwriting harks back to an era of clever storytelling, jokes with unspoken punchlines and unselfconscious poignancy. Their new album Bullseye is streaming at Soundcloud. These guys really know their retro sounds – it wouldn’t be overhype to mention them in the same sentence with Dale Watson. Their solos are short, concise and always leave you wanting more.

They open with I Don’t Think About You Anymore, which is sort of a heartbroken take on what the Statler Bros. did with Flowers on the Wall, built around a hammer-on rockabilly riff that everybody from Elvis and Johnny Cash on forward have made songs out of.

Brian Poston’s lead guitar twangs and looms ominously in Rattlesnake Whiskey, a spaghetti western shuffle about a moonshiner who gets high on his own supply. Frontman Ryan Humbert sends a shout-out to his mom in Another Mother – as in “you won’t get another mother” – with wistful fiddle and pedal steel in the background.

Bassist Ryan McDermott and drummer Dylan Gomez add an emphatic skinny Elvis strut to Hurt Heartbroke; Poston’s choogling lead out of that slip-key rockabilly piano break is over way too soon. The album’s title track is a western swing instrumental with a long, biting series of tradeoffs between lead guitar and steel. These guys really know their retro sounds

There’s more of that in Here Comes the Blues, an oldschool Bakersfield-style number with a sly couple of Merle Haggard quotes. Everything I Know is Buddy Holly updated for an era with better guitar amps, organ looming in the background and elegant harmony vocals from Emily Bates. Then the band put an energetic spin on Hank Williams in Waiting on You.

They weld a wry, aphoristic lyric to a loping Johnny Cash groove in Missing the Mark, with another lively conversation between guitar and steel on the way out. They go back to a hillbilly boogie bounce in I Still Care, with echoes of 60s George Jones.

The imagery gets really gloomy in the low-key, meticulously crafted heartbreak ballad Forgot to Forget (but dudes, you’re not playing in 3/4: this is too fast, it sounds like 12/8!). They end the album on a high note with the rapidfire party anthem Saturday Night Town. The Shootouts play the album release show on June 12 at 7:30 PM at the Auricle, 201 Cleveland Ave North in Canton, Ohio; cover is $15.

Abigail Dowd Stares Down the Flood and Wins

From Johnny Cash, to Led Zeppelin, to Karla Rose, musicians have never stopped finding new uses for flood metaphors. Americana songwriter Abigail Dowd is the latest in that venerable line. For Dowd, it’s personal: her Colorado home was flooded six times in 2018, springboarding the songs on her hauntingly intense latest album Beautiful Day, streaming at Soundcloud. As a tale of resilience and triumph over adversity, it has special resonance in the year of the needle of death.

Dowd has a ruggedly individualistic persona and a thing for southern gothic; her previous album Not What I Seem got a rave review here last year. Not everything is as it seems in the allusive, wary title track, Dowd’s spiky fingerpicking leading to a doublespeed charge fueled by Alex McKinney’s dobro and Scott Sawyer’s spare electric guitar lines over the low-key shuffle rhythm of bassist Jason Duff and drummer Austin McCall. Here and there, Joe MacPhail’s Rhodes electric piano pops up, a subtle suspenseful enhancement.

Diamond is a strutting Lou Reed tune in Americana disguise, spiced with MacPhail’s smoky organ: “Sometimes I feel like a miner left behind in the dark” is the key line. Dowd’s delivery in general is more flinty on this album, especially in One Moment at a Time, a moody carpe-diem theme built around a briskly flurrying acoustic guitar riff.

The instrumental St. Vrain – the name of the creek that rose up and almost took Dowd’s home with it – has a gorgeously haunting, baroque-tinged web of guitars and is over way, way too soon: Dowd could have kept this going three times as long and it wouldn’t be boring.

Sawyer’s ominous washes of chords raise the intensity in River, a resolute Appalachian gothic anthem. Dowd stays with the brooding minor-key atmosphere in Apple Trees, a chillingly metaphorical tale of plans suddenly derailed.

The Underground Railroad escape anthem Judgment Day captures the exhaustion of life on the run and the perils at every turn. “I just want to be alone,” the haunted freedom fighter in Don’t Want to Talk About It asserts: sometimes you have to become a monster to defeat them.

Dowd’s defiant narrator throws off the shackles of original sin in the briskly stomping After the Fall, right up to a surprise ending. The she brings down the lights in the haunting, organ-fueled, enigmatic Rise Above: at what point do we have to walk through hell to get any further?

The flood metaphors reach fever pitch in Run, a global warming-era Appalachian gothic tale run amok. Dowd winds up the album with Grandmother Moon, a shamanic, oldtime blues-infused tableau. Dowd is on a creative tear right now: there must be something in that Rocky Mountain water.

Hard Country Singer Sara Petite Shifts Gears into Harder Rock Territory

“I ain’t feeling like an angel tonight,” Sara Petite sings over a twangy stomp on the opening track of her new album Rare Bird, streaming at Soundcloud. She’s made a career in defiant bad-girl hard country sounds: this one’s more rock-oriented. Her vocals are more focused, more wintry, more dynamic this time out: there’s more depth to the hard-living persona.

Petite also explores more musical territory here. Case in point: the second track, Runnin’. If not for the pedal steel and the down-home snarl of the guitars, this would be new wave.

As Petite sees it, Scars are “like barbwire to the touch, jagged and jaded” and make a good theme for a richly textured, unexpectedly complicated Americana rock anthem. Listen closely and you realize how much Stockholm Syndrome plays into an abusive relationship.

The title track is a mashup of elegant 60s countrypolitan and more recent, harder-edged Nashville sounds, with a plaintively sizzling fiddle solo on the way out. Petite picks up the pace with The Misfits, a big, fist-pumping nonconformist anthem, then brings the lights down again with the gorgeously bittersweet Missing You Tonight.

She fills a barroom with a colorful bunch of party animals in Crash Boom Bang, mashing up a simmering Texas slide guitar shuffle with a familiar Elvis hit. Likewise, she blends some catchy Memphis soul into the mix in Medicine Man.

Floating With the Angels has tinges of Tex-Mex, Petite finding religion in drunken bliss via a clever litany of gospel imagery. She goes back in a retro soul direction with the resolute, distantly New Orleans-tinged Keep Moving On: “I’ve been ridiculed, blamed, shamed, misunderstood,” she admits, but she won’t let that get her down. “Freedom ain’t just for the chosen few.”

She winds up the record with Working on a Soul: who would have expected the crazed noiserock intro that kicks off this surreal mix of hick-hop, Nashville gothic and jubilant country gospel.

A Smart, Defiant, Diverse Debut Album From Americana Tunesmith Cristina Vane

Cristina Vane shifts between a simmering intensity and a low-key, brooding vocal delivery. She’s a strong guitarist with command of a whole bunch of blues styles and writes sharply lyrical, darkly aphoristic songs. Her narratives are cached in allusive, grim rural imagery more than fire-and-brimstone gospel. Her brilliant debut album Nowhere Sounds Lovely – streaming at Bandcamp – covers a lot of ground, stylistically and otherwise.

She opens the record with Blueberry Hill – an original, not the Fats Domino classic, although the first verse of this intricately interwoven, Appalachian-flavored acoustic slide guitar blues is set in New Orleans. The devil tells her to get out, so she heads to New Mexico – and that isn’t any more welcoming:

We got spiders in the bathrooms and there’s snakes in the halls
We got our women in white dresses gonna walk through walls
And this house is haunted, not as much as me
But I could shake these demons, they’re good company

Travelin’ Blues has an easygoing Piedmont-style feel, Tommy Hannum’s dobro lingering over Vane’s nimble fingerpicking, bassist Dow Tomlin and drummer Cactus Moser giving it a, loping groove. By contrast, the stark banjo tune Prayer For the Blind has a midwest gothic fatalism, an endless cycle where “Time passes on old wounds as if they were brand new.”

Badlands is not the famous song by that 70s rock guy who became a hopeless lockdowner apologist, but a searing, allusively grim slide guitar-driven blues original. It could be a sinister account of antedeluvian rural hell…or a thinly disguised pro-freedom anthem. The big guitar payoff at the end is spot-on.

There’s redemptive solitude in the front-porch folk waltz Dreaming of Utah, Hannum’s pedal steel adding a touch of vintage Bob Wills western swing. Vane reaches for a matter-of-factly strutting Memphis soul feel in What Remains and goes back to blues with Heaven Bound Station, a steady stroll with some neat twin-guitar interplay.

She switches to banjo for Will I Ever Be Satisfied, a spare, lonesome-traveler type number. Vane imagines her ideal guy in Dreamboy, a stomping, insistent, similarly simmering blues: turns out she likes the strong silent type. Then she slows things down with the moody, slide guitar-driven Wishing Bone Blues, rising out of a hypnotic, summery resonance

The Driving Song captures a gloomy, desperate rural atmosphere where “The characters around me, border the absurd/It’s a comedy of horrors, and it just keeps getting worse.” Vane winds up the album the triumphant waltz Satisfied Soul, Nate Leath’s fiddle harmonizing with the keening pedal steel. If she hits the road in the free states this summer, she’s going to make a whole lot of fans.

Grimly Lyrical, Darkly Jangly Americana Rock Tunesmithing From Janet Simpson

The ramshackle, embroidered cover art for Janet Simpson‘s new album Safe Distance – streaming at Bandcamp – is pure American gothic, a cowboy trying to lasso a snake. That speaks volumes for Simpson’s worldview and irreverent outsider persona. Her songs draw a straight line back to the glory days of the so-called “paisley underground” rock of the 80s: Americana twang, punk spirit, psychedelic ambience. Simpson’s tales of hard times on the forgotten fringes are starkly lyrical and often chilling. She plays guitars and keys and has a great band behind her: Will Stewart on guitars, Robert Wason on bass and Tyler McGuire on drums. This is one of the best rock records of the year.

The opening track, Nashville Girls sounds like the Dream Syndicate with a woman out front, a clanging, vampy, wickedly catchy, caustically picturesque sendup of the kind of clueless trust fund kids you see in any gentrified neighborhood. Stewart’s uneasy chorus-box guitar solo wafts in, a fresh breeze straight ouf of the 80s; Simpson overdubs some whooshy synth on the way out. It’s a hard act to follow, but the rest of the record holds up.

The blend of jangle and clang in the second cut, Slip, is just as delicious: it could be the Gun Club at their most focused mid-80s peak, taking a stab at a hypnotic, nocturnal waltz. Alcohol permeates these songs like George Jones’ breath: Simpson’s battlescarred narrators medicate 24/7. Case in point: Reno, a pulsing, honkyonk-flavored tale that turns far much darker than you would ever think.

Simpson layers hazy keys and spare guitars for suspenseful, nocturnal ambience in Awe & Wonder, a brooding, completely ambiguous look at trying to rekindle what seems to be a pretty dead romance.

She wails to the top of her range over a steady, tense backbeat iu I’m Wrong: “I wander off sometimes it’s so easy to let myself fall through the cracks,” she muses. The baritone guitar solo out is an unexpected treat.

As an offhand portrait of despondency while everybody’s out having fun, Aiu’t Nobody Looking packs a calm wallop: and that fretless bass is a trip. The album’s title track is not a snide lockdown reference but a sobering account of a blackout hookup set to a marching waltz beat:

Dancing the line as if it was straight
A callous ballet, the border so fine
On the border so fine between two awful states

Simpson goes back to portraits of terminal depression in the spare, fingerpicked Black Turns Blue:

I’ve been drinking all my feelins it’s so much easier than dealing
The world’s so pretty when I’m reeling I’d rather stay where I can’t see

The album’s most hauntingly allusive song is Double Lines, a Nashville gothic drinking-and-driving tale right up there with Ninth House’s Follow the Line. Simpson offers up the spare, mostly acoustic Silverman as a mea culpa to someone who could have been a safe harbor.

Mountain, a Memphis soul tune, is an unexpectedly optimistic scenario. The album’s final cut is Wrecked, a subdued but defiant, distantly Tex-Mex flavored tune:

Maybe I’m barely hanging on
Maybe I’m wrecked, but I’m not too far gone
Maybe the edge is right where I belong
I’m not a fighter but I’m a dancer
And it might be a grave I’m dancing on

Unmasking One of the Most Deviously Brilliant Rock Hoaxes Ever

Working over the web last year, the Armoires decided to release a whole slew of singles under a bunch of assumed names (you bastards, you snagged October Surprise, the best bandname ever!). Despite widespread interest online and on radio, nobody ever got wise to the fact that it was really them. Finally, the muzzle is off, and this alternately hilarious and poignant, erudite mix of originals and covers – inspired by the Dukes of Stratosphear‘s immortal parodies of 60s psychedelic rock excess – has been released as an official Armoires record, Incognito, streaming at Bandcamp.

Based in California, the harmony-rock band found themselves stymied in attempts to pull the whole group together under dictator Gavin Nuisance’s fascist lockdowner restrictions. Fortuitously, the core of the band, keyboardist Christina Bulbenko and multi-instrumentalist Rex Broome, also run a very popular specialty label, Big Stir Records, so they have access to a global talent base. Drawing on a rotating cast of guitarists and drummers, the result is the most eclectically delicious album of the year so far.

The Armoires are more likely to slyly quote from late 70s powerpop than 60s psychedelia, although pretty much every rock style since then is fair game for their sometimes loving, sometimes witheringly cynical satire. What differentiates this album from the Dukes of Stratosphear’s (a.k.a. XTC’s) mashups is the cleverness of the lyrics.

Say what you want that “October Surprise” turn John Cale’s iconic proto-goth Paris 1919 into bouncy Penny Lane Beatles: that’s the spirit of punk, right? The B-side, Just Can’t See the Attraction, is an acidic original immersed in schadenfreude and driven by Larysa Bulbenko’s violin. “She was maybe too much, too demanding/She was surely too much in demand,” and the haters abound.

As D.F.E., the band give themselves several fictitious shout-outs in their A-side, I Say We Take Off and Nuke This Site From Orbit, a seethingly Beatlesque critique of social media. The quote at the end of the song is too good to give away. But the B-side is sobering, a lively, deadpan cover of Zager and Evans Hall of Famers Christie’s 1970 pentatonic folk-rock hit Yellow River, a post-Vietnam War anthem told from the winning side of that pyrrhic victory.

Bagfoot Run, the A-side of the single by “The Chessie System” is an irresistibly funny bluegrass escape anthem. You’d think that somebody would have figured out the joke from the subtly venomous anti-lockdown flip side, Homebound, a Louvin Brothers sendup, but nobody did.

As The Yes It Is, their jangly, anthemic cover of new wave band 20/20’s The Night I Heard a Scream, a portrait of an unsolved hit-and-run is infinitely more chilling. The cover of XTC’s Senses Working Overtime blows away the original, raising the Orwellian ambience several notches with piano and violin. Likewise, the line about “we’ll give it pause to breathe the air” in the triumphantly jangly, unlikely cover of the Andy Gibb rarity Words and Music.

Jackrabbit Protector, released under the name Zed Cats, is part Nancy Sinatra Vegas noir parody, part metaphorically-loaded populist throwdown. “I can count my friends on the palm of my hand,” Broome laments in the Beatlesque Walking Distance, awash in searing guitar multitracks. The lyrically torrential Sergeant Pepper-esque stroll, Ohma, Bring Your Light Into This Place, by the “Ceramic Age,” follows in the same vein: it could be a parable. Their B-side is Magenta Moon, a gorgeous, lushly swaying kiss-off anthem and cautionary tale (and maybe a Nick Drake shout-out). This eerie orb is “My one and true companion in the way you never were,” as Bulbenko relates in her simmering, mentholated mezzo-soprano.

Great Distances, by “Gospel Swamps” will rip your face off: over a tense twelve-string janglerock pulse, the band salute a time, and a person, lost to transcontinental barriers. It’s the great lost track from the Jayhawks’ Sound of Lies record. The concluding cut, Awkward City Limits makes an apt segue, an irresistible, metaphorically-loaded road narrative set to simmering backbeat roadhouse rock, the New Pornographers mashed up with early ELO.

But wait! There’s more! There are bonus tracks including a hilarious Lou Reed reference; Nashville gothic gloom transposed to early Trump-era lockdown; and Babyshambles retro garage rock recast as Burroughs cut-and-paste novelette in New Abnormal hell. Was it worth risking being unmasked as pretenders throughout these wild adventures into the furthest reaches of the band’s creativity? “We’ve always believed that art without risk isn’t worth doing,” is their response in the liner notes.