Pop people call it a concept album, where a common thread runs through a series of songs. The classical world calls it a song cycle. But I think the most appropriate description for Easterween, a collaboration between singer-singwriter John Southworth and string player Andrew Downing, is Gothic Musical Monologues.
Or maybe it’s best to forget any sort of label altogether in trying to appreciate Southworth’s rough-hewn vocals underpinned by knobby-textured sounds from a seven-piece band of violin, cello (wielded by Downing), double bass, clarinet, guitar, trumpet and trombone.
The result is a dark, almost sinister sound that’s part klezmer, part Weimer-era cabaret, part acid trip in the basement of a Transylvanian pub sometime between witching hour and a sunny spring morning.
The musico-poetic journey on this 12-track album begins with “Nip It in the Bud,” where Southworth’s lyrics introduce us to a rural-Pennsylvanian Amish boy running away to the big city and hooking up with a sweet Hasidic girl. The two, who have a penchant for talking to urban faeries, go off on a sort of easter egg hunt/search for the Holy grail of a lost Romantic Ethos.
By the time we get to the closing song, “Easterween:”
“Pennsylvania is awash with the songs of young Werthers
you can hear them in Bay City and in Edmonton, Alberta…”
There’s a cute, silly, compelling wonkiness to the whole enterprise that looses a little bit of steam in the sameness of the overall sound and textures.
I’m willing to bet that the live shows Southworth and Downing have organized tonight and tomorrow at the Lower Ossington Theatre will be more fun, thanks to some extra multimedia ingredients.
And here’s “Nip It in the Bud”: