This summer is turning out to be a bumper time for great music with excellent albums arriving almost daily. Petunia (formerly billed as Petunia and the Vipers) doesn’t disappoint with his follow up to his 2012 album (reviewed here) which Blabber’n’Smoke saw as evidence of a “left field genius.” While Inside Of You doesn’t quite have the jaw dropping effect that the Petunia and The Vipers album had it still provides thrills galore. Some chin stroking moments as the listener wonders what on earth is going on perhaps but at its best there’s some of the most vibrant country swing and modern rockabilly we’ve heard in a long time while Petunia toys with genres on several of the more challenging listens.
The Vipers are present along with a slew of Vancouver’s best including Paul Rigby (Neko Case, Garth Hudson and Calexico) while Frank Fairfield also makes an appearance and they open the album with an almighty clatter on the thrilling railroad countrybilly of Runaway Freight Train Heart which propels turbo charged twang guitar riffs and licks at the listener while the rhythm section goes at it pell mell. There’s more muscle on the junkyard blues of Primitive Love which is like a cross between Peggy Lee and The Cramps as it sashays with a wicked jungle sway and lewd trumpet. The trumpet returns accompanied by snaking guitar and a mutant cocktail jazz backing on The One Thing while Oh My Mother vamps along like a subdued Cab Calloway with some jazzy fiddle included (and there’s aSpanish version hidden at the end of the CD). Petunia and his cohorts head into Western Swing territory on the album’s closing numbers as They Almost Had Me Believing is buoyed by some tremendous lap steel playing with the final song, Tear Drops Rolling adding fiddle to the mix while Petunia’s high, wide and lonesome vocals are the icing on the cake.
If this were all then the album would rate highly but scattered within these superb romps Petunia offers some other gems which serve to show his peculiar genius and raise the album from good to great. Forgotten Melody is an odd song by any standard. It races along with nimble double bass, sticks and Django Reinhart guitar runs almost outpacing Petunia’s rushed vocals before JP Carter’s trumpet soars into view. There’s a continental air to this with a whiff of the circus like music of Nino Rota in the sixties as the song twists and turns with an almost cartoon like elasticity. There’s an audacious key change in the coda which borders on genius. Bicycle Song is a wonderful slice of whimsy that recalls the earlier album as Petunia scats and plays with the words as the band lay down a lap steel flavoured buzz. Holy Budge Winters features Frank Fairfield on pump organ on a song that sounds as if it were rescued from The Anthology of American Folk Music as Petunia relates a tale redolent of God fearin’ times as a travelling showman prays for rain to put out forest fires. Petunia plays with the song, bringing it up to date as helicopter and ‘plane water drops fail to quench the flames. When his prayers are answered and rain falls he goes to church but as Petunia sings
” he went to a church it was closed so he went to another one where he hadn’t been in years and he said his thankyou’s and then his work was done.”
On the title song Petunia stands alone with just his guitar and voice as he offers an epistle urging self awareness. Its testament to his talent that this solo effort, the longest on the album at six minutes, keeps your attention throughout.
Inside Of You is an album that on one level immediately grabs you with its hi-octane offerings but one that repays repeated listens as its onion layers are unveiled. It’s odd in parts but that’s part of the joy in delving into it. Blabber’n’Smoke saw Petunia live at Celtic Connections two years ago and they were magnificent live. They’re returning to the UK later this year and on the strength of this it’s a show to see.