Talking Elephant 2022
With their caravan rolling to the bright future, New York nomads don’t leave fallen faces by the wayside.
This flamboyant troupe have always presented the public with a special sort of entertainment, one where histrionics come rooted in history and happy smiles conceal philosophical depth of what’s going on at the artsy front which doesn’t rely on sharp satire when beatific sarcasm will do. Still, “A Very Unusual Head” lives up to its title, giving the Sleepy Hollow ensemble an opportunity to venture beyond rustic constraints of their traveling show and vent off their attitude towards subjects of a deceptively fleeting nature that help the band revel in raveling the eternal meaning behind their not-so-harmless songs. So if such memorable pieces as “Absolutely Beautiful Freakin’ Day” and “Brilliantly, Brilliantly Dumb” – the former an anthem to joie de vivre and the latter a baroque spiritual featuring Dar Williams’ voice and Anthony Thistlethwaite’s mandolin and sax – may to indulge in unbridled rapture, there’s also civic commentary and the desire to “extend thru space into the ends of everything” to chase away the blues and welcome hope.
This is why, instead of dancing on this world’s grave, the group plough the soil in their own yard to locate the ecology-signposting insects of the hymnal, stage-tested opener “Beez (I Know Where The Beez Have Gone)” there, buzzing above the ground on the wings of two basses and two electric sitars, while Joziah Longo, the regular ringleader, preaches his predatorily hypnotic gospel to the choir – the same choir which will deliver the “Hey Jude”-derived “na-na-na” in the epic finale of “Alligators” that stresses this trip’s conceptuality by accessing a few other classic rock staples. Yet though the ivories-encrusted acoustic caress of “Look Around” seems a tad nervous, despite its circular refrain, before the cut’s fairy-tale slant is enhanced with Sharkey’s McEwen’s soaring six-string solo and Felipe Torres’ marching drums, the science-centered “Pluto’s Plight” turns myth into a catchy blues-based cosmogony and “Force Of Nature (Stephen Hawking’s Lament)” wraps cosmic consciousness in warm psychedelia and spills the spaced-out sentiment into “Halo” whose riffs feel truly triumphal.
But then the felt-tipped “Fi” offers a sweet, brass-brandishing reverie whereas the flute-flaunting “Step Outta Time” and the piano-laden “The Neverwas” compromise their folksy balladry by the bitter diatribe against social injustice, and “Stand Under / Understand” gradually unfolds a sad mantra for the listener’s mind-eye to focus on the dynamics of anguish in interpersonal relationships. However, the flamenco-tinctured “Solve It All Dālí” tries to find the answer to routine problems in surrealistic filigree and the "Conquistador" flourish at the end – a contrast to the orchestral title track’s fairground-to-funereal waltz, the funniest number on display.
It’s a circus, of course, yet it’s a thinking person sort of entertainment – for everyone to join in the festivities of seeing the global scene in a different light.