7. Soul Holler
10. Never (A Comfortable Vice)
11. A Small Drinking Town
12. Fairweather Friend (Lament)
The Bollard, November 2010:
How the hell did Bass Box get this good?
Galen Richmond reviewed their debut EP for The Bollard in early 2007, and had mostly positive things to say about the unconventional trio of guitar, bass and human beatbox. Two of the five tracks on that EP are late-career Tom Waits covers, and the live recording (from a Geno’s gig) is pretty rough, but “as a snapshot of a developing band, it shows a great deal of potential,” Richmond wrote.
A year later, Bass Box contributed a surprisingly catchy version of “Go North Little Child” to an obscure collection of Dan Knudsen covers, and that was it. Nary another peep. Now, two-and-a-half years later, they drop this brilliant, gorgeous pop album out of the clear blue sky.
Well, for one thing, the trio is now a quartet with a trio of female backing singers (The BoxSets) and numerous guest musicians. Original bassist Stu Mahan has moved on, replaced with the deft Dylan Verner. Chas Lester still provides the “vocal percussion” (remarkably, there are no drums on Mother Box, just Lester, claps and Foley effects), and singer Mat Zaro plays guitar and organ. Luke Goodine’s been added on keys and accordion.
For another thing, they put a full year into the recording and mixing of this album at Wally World, guitarist and soundman Wally Wenzel’s studio. The arrangements are lush, deep and nuanced. Wenzel — who unjustly caught shit in these pages for the sound on Dead Man’s Clothes’ latest (the band wanted it to sound like ass) — has done a masterful job with this one.
Bass Box’s forte is art-damaged cabaret rock (thus the late-career Waits), and Mother has no shortage of that. “Damaged Goods” is a pop tango that features BoxSet Jya Kennedy dueting with Zaro. “& (Ampersand)” is a poem by Cassidy Holden set to a waltz by the Beach Boys. And the bier hall stomper “Austrian Girl” is a greatly updated version of “The Austrian Prostitute” from the live EP.
But it’s the other stuff that really grabs you, like the achingly beautiful ballad “For Someone.” Zaro’s fine voice weaves around itself, doubled, as the song glides along on Goodine’s twinkling piano and Zaro’s acoustic guitar. The lounge-jazz number “We Got Worms” has a wonderfully weird vibe to it. “Parasites give me the blues / But what can infected minds do / To satisfy their urges? / To save on their next purchase?”
“Soul Holler,” a chain-gang song, kicks off the second act of the “song cycle” Mother purports to be. It slides into “Payback,” a slinky soul song (of all things) that in turn eases into a jazzy version of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” with guest Tyler Quist playing banjo (!) and Goodine on trumpet. Lester’s contributions are more pronounced on these songs, but just enough to let you appreciate how cool it is that he’s in the band.
“Never (A Comfortable Vice)” sounds like the bastard child of Roger Waters and Art Garfunkel. Yes, you need to hear that. A song called “Fairweather Friend” brackets the album: first as a popped-up rocker, finally as a countrified weeper prettied up by the BoxSets’ sweet harmonies.
I haven’t heard a local release this fully realized and richly textured since Satellite Lot’s Second Summer five years ago. Summer was one of the best local releases of the last decade. Mother will undoubtedly be considered one of the best of this one.
— Chris Busby
released November 19, 2010
Bass Box Presents : Mother Box
a song cycle in two acts
Produced & Mixed by Bass Box & Wally Wenzel
Composed & Arranged by Bass Box
(* by Bass Box/Stu Mahan; ** by Willie Dixon;
+ Poem by Cassidy Holden)