Strung Like a Horse’s brand-new album Free is well worth the wait
I’m not going to mince words. I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while. Strung Like a Horse, the band that is not so much a band as a phenomenon, has completed their first full-length album and it is my great pleasure to tell you about it. Entitled Free, the album is a collection of ten tunes that demonstrate a great deal of what makes Strung Like a Horse one of the most loved bands in the region.
In the first place, the boys are superb musicians. That’s neither necessary for, nor a guarantee of, success, but it sure doesn’t hurt. They aren’t just great instrumentalists though; they can also craft one hell of a song. Both lyrically and structurally their music is thoughtful and intelligent. Still, that isn’t the whole Strung Like a Horse package. (I know what I said.)
They take this considerable pool of talent and serve it up with a sense of humor and weirdness that you just don’t see that often. They’re kind of nuts, is what I’m saying, but only in the most brilliant fashion. I know—you’d probably expect something a tad more conventional from a band that has members named “Crispy” and “Spooky Fiddler” in their ranks, but there it is.
The opening track, “Free,” is just as happy and jaunty a tune as you’ll ever hear. You can’t help but feel good listening to it, despite or perhaps because the subject matter seems to be the relief one feels from leaving a bad relationship. Think of Steve Martin’s happy dance after his awful girlfriend breaks up with him in “LA Story.” There’s something to be said for having a weight lifted from your shoulders like that.
“Brag” is the second track, a raucous Western swing number that seems to be the opposite of track one inasmuch as it is an unapologetic celebration of a successful relationship, or at least a much happier one. Track three, “Opus Zero,” is fascinating all the way ’round. It’s a story tune, a dark one at that, but the frenetic pace and the unmistakable flavor of klezmer music lend credence to the “gypsy” portion of the band’s “gypsy punk-grass band” self-description.
“Storm of You” starts off as a haunting, sorrowful sort of ballad that shifts gears halfway through into a dreamy steel guitar that is more or less the opposite of the bit that precedes it. “Circus Song” is a lazy, drawl of a tune, replete with farm animals in the background; at least I’m pretty sure I heard a sheep, or a groupie…possibly one and the same. The lyrics are poetry. “If I don’t find me and you don’t find you, I hope we both find someone new.” One gets the impression that this tune might have been a precursor to “Free.”
“La Belle Verite” is a delightful inclusion on this album, a neat experiment that I personally find very appealing. The band has taken Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from “The Great Dictator” (a wonderful and vastly unappreciated film in its day) and given it a soundtrack. That’s all, and yet it fits what I know of the band’s personality as a whole so well that it’s easily as memorable and powerful as anything else on the album.
“Trailer Park Astronaut” is a lovely, twisted answer to the Byrd’s “Mr. Spaceman.” There is an honest-to-god theremin expertly played by Kris Dale and, get this, a water phone! Go look it up. It’s one of the neatest instruments you’ve never heard of, and the fact that the band has one (scratch built, no less) and plays it on this anthem to alien abduction is definitive proof that there is way more to SLAH than meets the eye. If they ever do a gritty reboot of “Redneck Rampage,” this tune HAS to be on the game’s soundtrack.
“Everything to Me” is another great example of superb lyricism. An apparent tribute to codependency, the song contains such gems as, “we agree one thing, we both know that we’re wrong” and “our love is like a poison, but it’s everything to me.” Those lyrics could work with damn near any genre of music; country, blues, psychedelic and funk. You name it, you’d still have a great song. The music they are set to, however, reminds me of nothing so much as Paul Simon (the later years.) Can’t say why exactly, but that’s what I hear.
“Horizontal Prequel” starts out as a dainty little tune that suddenly explodes in to something akin to “Flight of the Bumblebee,” although a little more countrified than that. Maybe flight of the mud dauber or the yellow jacket In fact, yellow jacket seems about right as the scorned woman at the heart of the tune shares some common traits with vespula maculifrons; nature’s way of saying, “Don’t screw with me!”
The final tune, “Horizontal,” should be familiar to SLAH fans, and for the rest of you, let’s just say that it is remarkably Zappa-esque in execution and wicked in lyrical content. The album as a whole represents, I think, the best of what SLAH has done to date and is a must-have for…pretty much anyone, really. One of the best albums to come out of this region this year, it is slated for release Sept. 25 at what will be the final show for Rhythm & Brews.