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Great New CD Review!

Posted by curtiseller on Friday, September 19, 2008

New York's Lucid Culture has posted a really great review of my new CD!  How Exciting!
Curtis Eller's American Circus
Wirewalkers & Assassins

Curtis Eller, self-described "yodeling banjo player" has been a fixture of the New York oldtimey scene for awhile. Wirewalkers and Assassins is his latest cd, and it's brilliant, one of the best in recent months, with a frequently eerie, carnivalesque feel. Eller sings in a strong, unaffected voice, really knows his history and has a knack for an offhandedly lyrical knockout punch. His tunes span the oldtime Americana spectrum, with elements of country, vaudeville and a lot of blues. The cd's production is smartly rustic and minimalist, mostly just Eller's voice and banjo backed by a rhythm section with occasional excellent lapsteel guitar by Gary Langol. It kicks off on a particularly auspicious note with Eller's best song, the haunting, apocalyptic After The Soil Fails:

This time the dream is a Russian oil tanker
Fidel Castro and Cuban sugarcane
Richard Nixon's having the same old nightmare
Jack Ruby's black secret crawling up through the drain
When the hurricanes finally take out New Orleans
And scarlet fever has finally left Philadelphia bare
There's a ghost that we remember hanging in the air.

Sung from the point of view of a Sarah Palin type, John Wilkes Booth (Don't Make Us Beg) effectively shines a light on the kind of psychology that would drive someone to murder a Lincoln or a Kennedy. Amy Kohn's accordion and a choir of women singing backup sweetens the sarcasm. The slow, lapsteel-driven 3/4 ballad Hartford Circus Fire, 1944 commemorates one of Connecticut's blacker days. "The maestro kept a short leash on the band," Eller sings nonchalantly early on, "Except for the nightmares and the coughing, it's like the circus never passed through." Sugar For The Horses is a fast, cynical minor key shuffle that wouldn't be out of place in the Jack Grace songbook:

The last I heard of Boss Tweed he was locked down in the Tombs
I guess Tammany Hall has lost its bloom
Even if the Volstead Act hits Nevada, there's always sugar for the horses

Sweatshop Fire is another scorching, cynical, minor-key barn-burner with a murderous lapsteel solo from Langol:

I'm gonna burn like a sweatshop fire
I'm climbing up into the rafters and clip that angel's wires
I'm gonna lock the factory door and let 'em sweep the ashes away
If you're holding out for the union to save you
I guess you just turned out on a bad day
I'm gonna get fucked up like Ulysses S. Grant
Get as black as a Tuesday in 1929

The circus fire motif returns in Plea Of The Aerialist's Wife, a blackly humorous, straight-up country number told from the perspective of a woman who wants her man off the wire before he gets killed. Firing Squad is another dark, lickety-split, brilliantly lyrical number that evokes LJ Murphy at his most sardonic. "It's just another blackout for New York City, this town can't get no sleep," Eller rails, chronicling one impending disaster after another. The cd ends with the wrenchingly beautiful Save Me Joe Louis. If you haven't heard this album, you have been deprived.

Lucid Culture Music Zine
New York, NY

You can read the review and leave comments online here:
Curtis Eller on Lucid Culture

2 comments on “Great New CD Review!”

twayneking Says:
Friday, September 19, 2008 @11:27:22 PM

Sounds like the 60's was real good to that bunch!

curtiseller Says:
Saturday, September 20, 2008 @8:33:56 AM

I don't really know what you mean, but thanks for stopping by!

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