Petunia & The Vipers.

“Imagine that David Lynch and Nick Cave had a hillbilly baby. A hillbilly baby that yodelled.” Well imagine no more because that absurd description just about sums up the extraordinary Canadian artist Petunia although it misses out on the Godparents. Jimmy Rogers, Willie nelson, Slim Whitman, Lux Interior, Ray Condo and Tom Waits among others. An eclectic mix but stir them all together, add a soupcon of Elvis and even a hint of Pokey Lafarge and you might end up with this enigmatic character.
Although he has released several albums in Canada this is the first to get a push here and as such it stands as a great introduction to his left field genius.
Petunia (a name given to him by a mysterious lady friend) emerged from a Vancouver post punk scene and embraced country music. Picking up the Vipers, composed of the cream of the local crop including members of the late Ray Condo’s band, he can deliver straightahead country pop that can thrill and exhilarate as on the closing cut here It Ain’t where the band cut loose with a jitterbug frug with guitars a flaying and a propulsive swing that comes across a little like Jimmie Dale Gilmore fronting The Mavericks. This song alone should propel Petunia to playlists across the land and grace wedding dances galore such is its feelgood factor and if more folk had good taste. However its simply the last in a collection of songs that blast from the past and then are given a unique twist courtesy of Petunia’s slightly warped vision.
Opening with the cowboy yodelling of The Cricket Song the listener is lulled into a false sense of security as the fifties’ sheen, the tin pan alley chorus, the comforting pedal steel playing all add up to a song that could possibly kill Martians. In the midst of this radio hour comfort Petunia however tosses in a slice of discord as he reveals that he has left his “baby” almost as an aside. As a result this picture perfect description of a beautiful moonlit Canadian night hides a darker story. The darkness comes to the fore on the following song Mercy. “If Tom Waits could yodel and I bet that he can” sings Petunia as he launches into a Waits inspired carnival with the previous sumptuousness of the music replaced with the clash and clatter one expects from Waits while the guitarists produce some fine Marc Ribot inspired licks. The breathless rockabilly rant of Maybe Baby Amy follows on sounding like a country version of The Cramps, a trick repeated on Gitterbug where fat pedal steel replace fuzz guitar. There’s a Latin sound to Bright Light and Che (Guevara’s Diary) and a return to a more conventional approach on Yes Baby Yes, a western swing type number. A cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust is almost conventional and crooned superbly but at the heart of the album there is a darker core with The Ballad of Handsome Ned a highlight. A cinematic introduction leads into an atmospheric obituary for a local musician who inspired Petunia and offers the band the opportunity to stretch out. This is trumped however by the spectral majesty of Broken Down Love. A lament graced by some incredible saw playing by Doug Tielli it is wonderfully evocative of dark skies with a shivering loneliness and as it stutters and almost halts the sobbing guitar, the spooky saw, the lyrics and Petunia’s voice all add up to something close to perfection.
One of the best releases of the year you really should try to hear this.

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4 thoughts on “Petunia & The Vipers.

  1. Pingback: Petunia. Inside Of You. | Blabber 'n' Smoke

  2. Pingback: Petunia & The Vipers. Dead Bird On the Highway. | Blabber 'n' Smoke

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