It’s been a while since we heard from Son Of The Velvet Rat, the intriguingly named duo of Georg Altziebler and Heike Binder, originally from Austria, but ensconced in the Mojave Desert’s Joshua Tree for several years. Their 2017 album Dorado was a fine set of noirish (and beautifully sluggish) songs which transported a European sense of faded grandeur into a gothic American landscape with hints of The Walkabouts and The Handsome Family allied to visions of David Lynch movies.
Solitary Company finds the pair digging deeper into their new American roots while retaining a foothold in the old country. They open with Alicia, a song which recalls Leonard Cohen, both in its arrangement and its lyrics as Altziebler’s wizened voice intones, “I’m the paint brush, not the painter…I am just the singer not the song” – a more Cohen like set of words we’ve yet to hear. The title track follows and immediately we’re in deeper territory as the dense arrangement (including hammered piano, glockenspiel, violin and viola) is hypnotic and bewildering with the band sounding as if they were Calexico suffering from an attack of the bends having dived too deep. Calexico come to mind again on the whistled intro to Stardust but, as the band rattle on, it’s more the dry and dusty desert rock of the much-missed Thin White Rope which is the template here. Whatever, it’s a full throttled driving rock song and they repeat this later on when the funky beats of Beautiful Disarray heave into view. Borne aloft by some tremendous organ and harmonica interplay, this could be a hit on a hip radio station with its sinuous savvy.
Altzbeiber’s voice is well worn and not a million years away from that of Bob Dylan’s these days and as such it’s difficult not to imagine some of the songs here as being drawn from the same well as Dylan sucked from on Rough And Rowdy Ways, albeit with a fuller musical palette. When The Lights Go Down is a twilight song to delight with lonesome harmonica, slow shuffling beat and guttural guitar grunts, as Altzbeiber creates a wonderful crepuscular world. Remember Me limps along wonderfully with Binder conjuring some amazingly atmospheric sounds from her assorted keyboards while 11 & 9 (the date of Altzbeiber’s and Binder’s wedding) draws also from Dylan although here it’s more akin to his New Morning period. All in all, Solitary Company deserves a listen from anyone interested in a kaleidoscopic immersion into Americana’s hinterlands.