Music Reviews

Artist: Elouise (@)
Title: Deep Water
Format: CD
Label: self-released
Rated: *****
Well, this is certainly different! You've undoubtedly heard of Bluegrass music; you know - banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, etc., country style finger-picken, toe-tappin' good-timey stuff. Well, this ain't that. This is Blackgrass music, the antithesis of Bluegrass. From the band's one-sheet: "Fueled by a sordid real-life backdrop of good old-fashioned suicides, murders, and alcoholic depravity followed by church on Sunday, Elouise is an eccentric collaboration of Los Angeles-based musicians who came together to create an ominous, raw and cinematic genre of music they identify as Blackgrass. It is the sound of sin and salvation mixed in a dark cocktail with a taste of Bluegrass, a black symphonic sound and weary emotional vocals that tell original tales of struggle and re-imagine songs from our collective American consciousness." And that's the doggone truth, so help me Gawd. The CD cover ought to give some sort of clue- five ne'er-do-wells in stark black & white standing in front of a decrepit barn. That's got to be Elouise Walker (whom the band was named after) in front with them dead eyes (actually, too much eye shadow), not the kind of gal you'd bring home to mama. Elouise has the kind of voice that's all jailhouse Mallory from "Natural Born Killers" with a distinct drawl and the creakiness of an old porch rocking chair. Backed with banjo, guitars, cello, fiddle, and sometimes drums, harmonium, horns, double bass, accordion, bandoneon and marxophone, this band plays morose into magnificent. It's the kind of outfit you'd expect to be from New Orleans (Nawlins), Baton Rouge, the Mississippi Delta, or somewhere just outside of Mobile, Alabama, but certainly not LA.

The album is a mix of inspired originals and deconstucted and re-imagined classics such as "I'll Fly Away," "Amazing Grace," the Carter Family's "Shadow of the Pines" and Link Wray's "Fire and Brimstone." These ain't yo daddy's versions of these chestnuts; this is pure Elouise Country Gothic, slowed and simmered, steeped in the blood of the lamb, and kissed by the devil. One of the best tracks on the album is the booze-fueled "Saturn Bar," a Dixieland style funerary march to that famed New Orleans watering hole where danger lurks at every turn. It's a flavor Elouise capture perfectly, the sour taste, the smoky ambiance, the surrealness of the moment. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Elouise proves it in "Hurricane" with her witchy warble over over pounding toms. (Best not go on any dates with a girl named Katrina.) For a brief respite from Ms. Walker, one of the guys in the band, Rich Dembowski takes over vocal duties on a couple of numbers, the best of which is "Oh Lord." Vocally he comes across like a combination of Ray Davies and Leon Russell, with the song more the latter than the former. Gotta love a line that goes, "...I ain't gonna get on my knees, I ain't gonna get on my knees and pray, til you and I get a few things straight.." There's also an amazingly sad gypsy cello and double bass solo by Michelle Beauchesne and William Bongiovanni titled "Evil." Any one of these songs would have been excellent to play over the end credits for the HBO "True Blood" series, but too bad that's long gone now.

This kind of music isn't going to be everybody's cup 'o mud, and to be perfectly honest, country, western and bluegrass is some of my least favorite music. (The only thing worse in my world is rap and hip hop.) But I have to say for me, Elouise holds some kind of fatal attraction.

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