It’s been just a little over a year since Dastardly released their debut record, May You Never. In the time since then the band has traversed the nation in all directions picking up fans and causing a ruckus in cities as cool as Austin, Texas and as lame as Sac City, Iowa (though admittedly, with a name so hilarious you hardly need to be cool). Their live shows have continued to get better and better with each stop, and it has appeared to me that they were branching out into some new directions. So, when I heard they were going to be recording a new collection of songs, I was giddy with excitement. Now, the day of release has almost arrived. I whined to Gabe Liebowitz until he sent me a copy to review. Thanks, Gabe!
The album starts off with a couple pretty traditional songs. “Freight Train” has been the song Dastardly kicks off their shows with for a while now, and it’s a great kickoff to Bury Me In The Country. It sounds like they purposefully recorded the song to mimic what it would be like seeing them live. You hear them come in, pick up their instruments, and then someone hocks a loogie. Pretty typical Dastardly stuff. Also typical of Dastardly, it’s awesome.
Even though it’s more traditional than other songs on the record, it does mix a bit of rhythm and blues with the bands usual urban-country aesthetic. The second verse, specifically where Gabe’s voice is pushed way out front and he’s singing his soul out, really reflect the idea that they aren’t just a country band. The first instance of great harmonies comes into play early, and you can hear the difference a year makes. Gabe and Sarah Morgan have found their sound together, and when they sing together it really is perfection.
“Fever” is the single that the band released for the record, so you may have already heard it. If not, here’s a video the band made for the song. Hearing it for yourself is probably better than having me tell you about it.
For me, the album’s highlight comes right in the middle with track three, “Brief Thoughts On Death.” It’s one of my favorites to hear live, and it really puts Gabe’s songwriting on display. The opening lyrics are something I’ve thought many times,
Every time I see someone over 85, I wanna say how in the fuck are you still alive
when there’s cancer, heart attacks, deadly gashes, …, cigarettes and airplane crashes
I’m sure you know just how lucky you are, and Congratulations for getting this far
seeing you here makes me feel like tryin’ to live instead of just thinkin’ bout dyin’
This song also features one of Dastardly’s greatest assets and, I feel, their secret weapon. Joe Rauen is the lead guitarist, but he’s also the banjo player, the clarinet player, and all-around badass. On this song his banjo keeps the song true to the bands roots as they explore some dark material.
If you’ve seen the band perform any time in the last ten months or so, you’ll probably recognize “Dead Birdhouse Blues” as that song where Gabe hates Missouri. I first heard this tune at one of the Songwriter’s Circle events that a lot of great artists attend (this particular session had Gabe, Jennifer Hall, Rachele Eve, Brendan Losch, and William James). What I liked about the song on that night, and what I still like about it, is that you can feel the angst in his voice. I prefer the solo version of this song to the one with the band, because I feel like adding everyone else in takes away from the intimacy of it. That’s just me, though. Still a quality track, but I’m a purist.
The finale of the album, “Dirtnap (Uncouth Hillbilly Gets What’s Coming To Him),” is the song I have been waiting for. A while back I sent out a note on twitter about how the Dastardly show I was watching was turning into a Miles Davis concert, and it’s because of songs like this. No one can ever say that the band is afraid to get a little weird. One minute they’re playing a cover of “Rose Marie,” the next they’re asking the audience to form a killpit and get rowdy. This is one of those story songs that just gets deeper and deeper into the psyche of the writer.
Superficially it’s about a guy who is no longer cool and never will be. Below the surface, it’s a telling commentary about the bizarre rules we make up and the ridiculous pressure we all put on ourselves to be liked by all. In the song, our protagonist is bullied at every turn for not being “cool,” so much so that he shaves his head, strips down, and takes off for the woods so he can avoid constant judgement. But, much to his chagrin, even that doesn’t work. Even when he gets sent off to die, the cave he’s dying in is deemed too cool for him. It’s actually kind of hilarious (glow in the dark chillwave t-shirt).
With a second album under their belt, Dastardly has proven that they are to be taken seriously. It’s rare to see someone with as much drive and passion as Gabe Liebowitz has shown over the past few months. He has dedicated himself to this band whole-heartedly, and I think we are already starting to see returns on that investment. Bury Me In The Country is not a perfect record. If it were, I doubt they would ever release it. It is, however, a perfect sample of what Dastardly is at this specific time: a band that has realized they are capable of making damn fine music together.
You may remember that Dastardly was on my list of ten bands to watch in 2012. I’m proud to say that after hearing the new record, I stand firmly behind my previous statement. If you’re smart, you’ll heed my call and pick up Bury Me In The Country on January 31st. If you’re in Chicago you can come see the record release show tomorrow night, January 19th, at Lincoln Hall. I’m told that they can play as long as they want, so be prepared for a fun night/morning.