Prison Book Club

I’ve been remiss in keeping up with new releases from Big Bullet Records (I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek: Voyager and sorting and re-sorting my record collection), so I hope these drive-by reviews will get me back up to speed.

Prison Book Club – Required Reading

Prison Book Club is a self-styled “supergroup”, pieced together as it is from members of Shepherdstown’s The Demon Beat and The Fox Hunt. And while the term supergroup has taken on a newly pliable meaning there, what leaves little wiggle room is the music. PBC’s debut, Required Reading, is a rollicking eight-song release described by the band as “PBR-mageddon“. Presumably this has something to do with the remnants of the alt.country boom of the ’90s, but with earnest lyrics laced over such solid craftsmanship and production, I’m less concerned with where it came from and more entertained by speculating where it’s going. Required Reading is a high-water mark for the label. And how awesome is that Jordan Hudkins cover?

Dandelion Snow – “You, In That Hospital Gown”

Dandelion Snow is Brooklyn native Roger Harvey, much like the Divine Comedy is Neil Hannon and that other guy is Badly Drawn Boy. I myself am the Hobo Gadget Band. The squirrels that run across the roof of my house are the National Nut Board.

Dandelion Snow and Big Bullet Records recently released It’s Only a Bad Dream as a digital download. Sincere and idiosyncratic, the album feels like autumn, and I love music that feels like weather. I wanted to single out a particular track, though.

Sidebar: I take every opportunity I get to tell anyone who will listen that the Eels’ 1998 album Electro-Shock Blues is the best, most perfectly realized music I’ve ever experienced. And I’ve heard a lot of good music. What on the surface is exquisitely miserable and bleak is really spiked with great sympathy for human nature and the frail grace of life, and the production is astounding, and really, just from top to bottom it’s absolutely stunning.

That said, Dandelion Snow’s “You, In That Hospital Gown” jumped out at me as something very close to ESB in spirit. Hospital references aside, it’s touching, and Harvey’s vocals, which from time to time can tip-toe close to being put-upon, are at their most honestly plaintive. It goes a long way, and the song is at times simply disarming. If It’s Only a Bad Dream feels like autumn, then “You, In That Hospital Gown” is the aching numbness that won’t leave till springtime. (PS, Sorry for hijacking this review to plug ESB. It’s been 11 years and nothing has yet supplanted it.)

Stephen MacDonald & The Okay Win – “Could Gamble”

“Could Gamble” is a great, antsy way to kick off Stephen MacDonald’s We Are Bound. The album itself is impressive and quite enjoyable, though it doesn’t match in quirk what MacDonald’s Lou Reed/Elvis Perkins-esque vocals promise. And to avoid the impression that I’m trying to bum the guy out, I’d like to say that when he decides to try and break the mold, it’ll be good and broken, for sure. I’m looking forward to his next album.

Khaos Kloud – “French Frize”

It’s no lie: More than once has this song has made me ditch my dinner plans and fetch some fries instead. Good job?

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