Did Dante DeCaro really just ask me if my momma chews tobacca? Hot damn, I think he did.
DeCaro, former songwriter and guitarist of the now-defunct Hot Hot Heat, and current guitarist of Wolf Parade, has found an outlet for his apparent folksy roots – perhaps a product of his Canadian upbringing in Canada. This outlet is Johnny and the Moon, a four-piece band that recently released a self-titled album on Kill Devil Hills, a small indie label based in DeCaro’s hometown of Shawnigan Lake, British Colombia.
I’m not really sure what Shawnigan Lake is like, but after hearing this record, I could hazard a guess: Shawnigan Lake is a place where people are still turned on by some good fiddlin’; a place where being a percussionist means slapping two spoons against your thigh while simultaneously banging on a trashcan lid; a place where straw is a common oral accessory.
The first track on the album, “Green Rocky Road,” is a traditional song, and so it’s not so hard to locate the origin of the mountain imagery and the seemingly strange questions referenced in other songs off the album. This track sets the stylistic tone for the rest of the album: It uses the drums to accent the songwriting, as opposed to setting the rhythm, and it introduces a ringing, dreamlike keyboard melody that will drive the music through to the end of the song. The track also showcases DeCaro’s harmonica and introduces his scratchy voice, which, when paired with delightful vocal melodies, at times begs comparison to Bob Dylan.
The banjo makes frequent appearances later on in the album, as thick ragtime piano drives “When You’re All Alone” – think Dylan meets The Band – and what sounds like a glockenspiel plays a large role in the track “Tamed a Lion.” Add other gloriously untraditional instruments – I swear they must be banging on a metal trashcan lid on “Johnny and the Devil” – and some Lion King-esque backing vocals and you’ve got yourself one hell of a musical landscape.
Taken as a whole, the album plays like a dreamy tour through backcountry woods and; it’s a narrative of old-time sentiment. The album’s biggest flaw is a result of the band’s effort to string the songs into a thematic whole. The tracks were unified by their “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” meets “Cold Mountain” feel, which is really cool but not exactly dynamic. Though the similarity among the tracks does not amount to a terrible setback, it is noticeable. It makes you wonder if these guys will ever be able to gather enough material for another folk album, or if DeCaro just had to get this one out of his system. That wouldn’t be so bad…. After all, an indie musician could do worse than spending the rest of his days with Wolf Parade.
[Jacob Allen just left himself open for a whole lot of jokes about his momma; but he’s new, so we’ll let him off with a warning this time.]