Flying the flag for offbeat and eccentric Americana ( a mantle inherited from one of his heroes, Terry Allen), Joe West has released a stream of albums stained with a New Mexico patina buoyed up by his self deprecating sense of humour. Here he heads The Santa Fe Revue, a revolving collection of Santa Fe musicians and although it’s very much his album it offers space to several other vocalists and switches styles as it goes along. With recent moves into television and film soundtracks it’s no surprise that many of the songs here have a cinematic quality about them as the album wanders around in search of a theme. In fact at times I was reminded of Dan Hicks’ oddball imagined soundtrack, It Happened One Bite although the one style West doesn’t cover is western swing. Instead there’s some crunchy rock, spooky sci-fi (in a David Lynch fashion), spoken word and good old fashioned country rock and folk.
The straightforward songs are scattered throughout the album. It’s All Over opens with the wind behind it as the band breeze through a fine death song with some fine guitar and fiddle driving the song. The Blues is a throwback to power pop crunchiness while I Got It All (with vocals from Lori Ottino) is a fine and blowsy blues work out with gut bucket guitar. Paradise is a wonderful tale of a woman scrabbling to survive in a grim world, it’s passionate and brims with an anger and sorrow exemplified by the wheezing accordion. Don’t let Them Get You Down which follows is a banjo driven riposte urging pride in the face of adversity. West maintains this pugnacious attitude in the Celtic tinged biography of Hometown Shit Beer which while engaging is the one let down here.
All the above add up to an engaging listen but West adds some oddities to the mix with Pink Nun telling the tale of a, well, pink nun who wants to play in a band and travels looking for an answer. West delivers this in a weary fashion with laid back guitars and piano before he adds a chorus of Song Sung Blue to the mix. Weird? Frank’s Time Travel Experiment harks back to West’s album Time Travelling Transvestite but this time the delivery is more mechanic. Death in Santa Fe is a short fable of an encounter with Death but The Glory Days of Dona Dillenschneider is the epitome of West’s montage method. The eponymous Dona relates a sordid tale of guns and violence much in the style of true crime stories on TV with atmospheric musical background before the band launch into a cock eyed version of that old Mary Hopkins chestnut, Those Were The Days, which recalls Tom Waits’ Russian beaverings on Black Rider.
What to make of this melange? Best just to sit back and enjoy the album. West fans will love it while it’s well recommended for anyone sitting on the fence.