Moaners – Nocturnal

January 01, 1970

(Holiday for Quince)


The Moaners strip the varnish off the country blues, Melissa
Swingle singing in a voice so naked and unadorned you want to wrap a coat
around her, Laura King keeping time in a bare and fundamental way. 


Arrangements are spare and
whispery on the aptly named Nocturnal, mostly made up of Swingle’s slide
guitar and King’s punch-swinging, uncomplicated drumming. From time to time,
Swingle picks up another instrument – accordion on “Ramblin'” a Dylan-esque
harmonica on “Moonshiner” and “Little Man,” ghostly saw for “Blue Moon” and an
eerie woodwind on “Barbarian in China”
– yet the effect is not to intensify the sound, but rather to render it more
spectral and gothic. “Barbarian in China” is particularly
hallucinatory, a haze of low guitar and meandering Chinese flute around
Swingle’s weary vocals. “I was a stranger in this place,” she whispers, and
though her journey takes place on an airplane, in the 21st century,
the song belongs squarely in a tradition of lonely blues songs set far from
home. Only “Bartender’s Lament” with its straightforward pop structure and
stately piano, sounds like it had to have been written this century. The rest
of these songs are timeless, speaking of the constrictions of 1930s rural
poverty as much as post-meltdown, post-foreclosure binge America.


Though the album is stark, it’s not without a sense of humor.
Wry “Cowboy Bob (Ballad of Peggy Jo Tallas)” recounts the career of a
cross-dressing, false-bearded  bank
robber, who ended up $50,000 richer as the police put out an APB on a man. And
in next-to-closer “Happiness Is the Road”, Swingle tries to teach her dog to
play the guitar and succeeds, at least, in getting a happy rhythm out of his
tail thumping.


The Moaners are often compared to the White Stripes, but
it’s more telling to set them up against the late, lamented Mr. Airplane Man. Where the Boston blues duo flirted
with the glossiness of girl-group rock and roll, the giddy amp distortion of
urban garage rock, the Moaners are all back porch stoicism. Even the most
electrified, rollicking tracks on this third full-length sound hand-cranked and
home-made, and the 12/8 waltzes (traditional “Moonshiner”, traditional-sounding
“Raggedy Tune”, and wonderful saw-inflected “Blue Moon”) have the ache of deep
country longing.


DOWNLOAD: “Barbarian in China”,
“Blue Moon (Cold Hard Stone)” JENNIFER



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