Two days ago I sat in a restaurant enjoying a meal with some friends. It was a day of snow and cold, the likes of which only a “polar vortex” could produce, and so naturally, we were the only people dumb enough to shovel our way down the street for a pizza. Perhaps to punish us, or perhaps as a result of a deluded stupor caused by icicles in her brain, the solitary employee of the restaurant played exclusively country songs on the stereo for the duration of our stay. Now, before I offend any readers who happen to be country fans (so…none of you?), I should note that I know practically nothing about the genre. I am sure there are country songs that I would like – good, honest songs full of the kind of simple power that can only be conjured by an acoustic guitar and southern drawl – but as far as I know, I haven’t met one yet. Song after song on that chilly afternoon was about being drunk, being hung over, missing “my baby,” and trucks. That is not an exaggeration; that is literally the lyrical content of the songs. Musically, they were flaccid. My emotions, to be honest, were infinitely more affected by the pineapple in my mouth than by anything that entered my ears.
The point of that story, is that I don’t care much for country, or its spin offs. I am somewhat more inclined towards country’s literary cousin, folk, but even then I tend to steer clear. And yet in spite of this, I find myself quite enjoying the album Wolf Eggs from the California folk/alt country band, The Parmesans. It is a record firmly rooted in the sounds and images of the south, but it has a special something that most country albums seem to lack – it is undeniably fun. Wolf Eggs has a sense of humour usually reserved for ska bands, and it manages to bend the trademarks of the country genre to interesting effect. You can check it out for free, here.
The album opens with ‘Spicy Cigarette,’ a song that introduces the record in much the way I would expect – it doffs its hat at the door and respectfully makes your acquaintance. As such, the song is enjoyable, but a bit lacklustre. The meat of the song is acoustic guitar, upright bass, and twangy vocals, but these elements are fleshed out by barbershop quartet-esque harmonies and some excellent mandolin riffs. The lyrics are in many ways standard country fare, but there are some lines of quiet beauty in the mix as well. It is a soft and unpretentious song, and it is really quite endearing. For the most part, these are things I don’t say about songs with strong country influences.
The ante is increased with ‘Load Up On Eggs,’ a song that has a very different soul than ‘Spicy Cigarette.’ It has a breezy feel, almost as if it should be played on a ukulele (but not in the obnoxious teeny-pop kind of way that is so prevalent on YouTube, for some reason). It is a song about “the one that got away,” but it handles its subject matter in a way that is both playful and heartfelt. For example, lines like “your old man is buying a wedding ring, and that should be my memory. When he calls up, I won’t show up – it’s too hard to see you grown up” are contrasted by the sounds of eggs frying and some fantastically smooth trumpets.
The differences between the first two songs are actually quite slight, but they make for very distinct listening experiences. Thankfully, the rest of the album tends to follow the lead of ‘Load Up On Eggs,’ with country tropes balanced by a good sense of humour, brilliant harmonies, and laidback rhythms usually reserved for island tunes. For example, ‘JuJaJe’ offers backup vocals straight out of The Beach Boys playbook, and ‘Chicken Yard’ features clucking chickens along with some very strong harmonica work. Even as I write this it strikes me as an unlikely combination of sounds to hear on a successful record, but take my word for it, it’s a mighty fine way to spend forty-five minutes of your time.
Perhaps the strongest case I can make for this album comes from a duo of songs near the record’s closing. ‘Two Doves’ is, on paper, exactly the kind of song that I should love. It is ambitious, featuring striking key changes, a hint of Thom Yorke-y darkness, and lyrics that lean towards the cryptic. And while I do very much like the song, and I cannot deny that it provides an excellent degree of diversity for the album, I find that it is easily overshadowed by the next song, the far simpler ‘Nightmares in the Dark.’ Starting off with a “One, two, you know what to do,” the song keeps both feet planted in the soils of country, but it inspires finger snapping and toe tapping like something from the Rat Pack. It is a bizarre song, but far simpler, far more down to earth, than ‘Two Doves,’ and it plays to The Parmesan’s strengths.
When a “country album” can make me turn on my own preferences, it has something special going for it. Hell, ‘Wine In My Mustache’ might very well be the most “country” song on the album (the lyrics begin, “Well I met her in Dixie – how that woman tricked me, she said I was her only one. When the rooster was callin’, I started ballin’ – she woke with another man’s son.”), but it may also be my favourite. There is a playfulness to everything The Parmesans do, and yet I can’t help but feel the truth in their words. So give it a shot. Click the link up above and give it a listen – it costs you nothing but your time. And then, if you like what you hear, buy the record, or just a few songs, for whatever price you see fit. These boys are doing music the way it should be, and they are doing a damn fine job it. Wolf Eggs may not be my favourite album of 2013, and I doubt it will change my mind about the twangier arts, but it has certainly broadened my perspective and I urge you to give it a listen.
Banner image received from theparmesans.bandcamp.com
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