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Alternative Country; or, Jay Munly and Friends

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TheGazzardian View Drop Down
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    Posted: April 27 2013 at 23:03
This is a topic for the discussion of Alternative Country / Gothic Americana / The Denver Sound (I have heard most acts that I associate with this genre called one or more of these titles). For myself, Jay Munly is the star of this scene, and I know he has a following here, but it seems he was not the first.

A QUICK OVERVIEW

From what I have learned, the Denver Gentlemen were the prototypical band of the scene, featuring Jefrey-Paul, David Eugene Edwards (DEE) and various other members of 16 Horsepower throughout their lifespan, as well as Slim Cessna. (Unfortunately, there does not seem to be any music on youtube of this era - there is some from Jeffrey-Paul's 2005 reformation though  - and the album is impossibly out of print (although DEE wasn't in the band anymore by the time it was recorded)). The Denver Gentlemen had more polka in their sound then future bands in the genre would.

16 Horsepower was formed featuring many members of the Denver Gentlemen, and I think they were the most commercially successful band in the scene (don't quote me on that, but they at least did well enough to make music videos). Their lyrical content was based on the beliefs of DEE, which is basically a very fatalistic version of Christianity, and as such very dark in content as can be seen in this video:

Originally posted by Black Soul Choir Black Soul Choir wrote:

Every man is evil, yes, every man's a liar
Unashamed with a wicked tongue sings in the black soul choir

16 Horsepower would eventually dissolve due to disagreements in belief within the band. David Eugene Edwards would continue making music under the moniker Woven Hand (my favorite in the scene after Munly), who are actually included on Progarchives under the Prog Folk subgenre. The lyrical content is similar to that of 16 horsepower, but features more rock and less country compared to the prior band. The following video is from their latest album, which is the hardest rocking one to date...


Other members of the band would form Lilium, a band I am not quite so familiar with (I have listened to their album only a couple of times) but they went down a more folksy route than Woven Hand. The next video is the only one i could find of the band on youtube.


Going back to the Denver Gentlemen, Slim Cessna formed his own band afterwards, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, of which he has been the only constant. Jay Munly has been a member of the band for some time, and I am only familiar with a little of the material that has been released since Munly joined the band. Munly often acts as a foil to Slim in the songs, and in some cases he even gets to lead. The music, as of much in the genre, deals with Christianity, dysfunctional relationships, and other dark themes.

(the second song is a great example of the dark, intense sound these guys can do, but unfortunately it is not the best audio quality and the studio version is not to be found)

And that brings us to who is, in my mind, the star of the scene, Jay Munly, who has gained some notoriety on this website mostly for his three latest albums (Jimmy Carter Syndrome, Lee Lewis Harlots, Petr and the Wulf). Interestingly, his first three albums do not quite fit the sound of the scene as well, and all precede his time with Slim Cessna's Auto Club. His music is dark as the rest of the scene, although it is generally more story-oriented and deals less with Christianity. 

(This song is an excellent, dark, atmospheric piece that features a guest appearance by DEE)

Of the three albums I listed above, they are actually from three separate projects. Munly & The Lee Lewis Harlots features three female singers and more strings than Jimmy Carter Syndrome.


Lastly, Petr and the Wulf (credited to Munly & The Lupercalians) is based on Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, and features more folk elements than Munly's other works.


One last band I have explored in the genre is Reverend Glasseye & His Wooden Legs (formed by Adam Glasseye, formely of Slim Cessna's Auto Club) (alternately just Reverend Glasseye), who incorporate cabaret elements into their sound.


There are other bands in the genre as well, such as Tarantella (whom I have not yet heard and cannot comment on as of yet), but all the ones I have listened to can be traced back in some way to The Denver Gentlemen, so it is interesting how this scene arose from a band whose two albums are basically impossible to find. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote A Person Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 27 2013 at 23:16
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Originally posted by TheGazzardian TheGazzardian wrote:


I've always loved that video, it's interesting to see how quiet and withdrawn Munly is in interviews compared to his crazy stage presence. Jay Munly is by far my favorite artist in the scene, I've listened to 16 Horsepower, Wovenhand, Lilium and Slim Cessna's Auto Club but none of them are as compelling or quite as twisted as his version of gothic country.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Horizons Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 27 2013 at 23:18
Thanks Gazz for bringing these artists into the light. 
Like you said, i'm a huge Munly fan and i've been meaning to search around for other artists of the similar scene. Looks like you did the work for me LOL

I liked most of these songs, and that video of Slim Cessna's Auto Club is mesmerizing. Munly is a real character. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TheGazzardian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 28 2013 at 12:28
It's worth noting that if you are interested in collecting from this scene, now is the time, as record label Smooch Records has shut it's doors, and they released a number of these bands records, including Munly.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote infocat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 28 2013 at 15:16
I'm ashamed to say that I've lived in the Denver area for over 20 years, and while I know "of" all of these bands, I've never actually listened to them.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ClemofNazareth Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 28 2013 at 19:08

Not all the great goth/cabaret country came out of the Denver area.  The Decemberists, especially their early stuff, fits in the same broad category.

And check out Beat Circus from Boston, who are also listed here on PA under Prog Folk.  Reverend Glasseye made his solo career in Boston as well.  'Black River Falls' from Reverend Glasseye and his Wooden Legs is one of my favorite goth-country albums ever.

Also Rasputina (Melora Creager), originally from Kansas but who relocated to upstate New York and has made a decent career out of weird-ass country, folk and cabaret with nothing more than cellos and an occasional string bass or drum.

Larkin Grimm has her moments as well, and has played live shows with several of the artists listed here.

And check out Strawfoot and maybe Tarantella as well.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TheGazzardian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 28 2013 at 21:00
I will definitely check out all those videos soon Clem :). I have heard Rasputina before but never considered it part of this scene, will definitely give them another go. I can see the relationship with the Decemberists.

I just checked out Tarantella earlier today, they were tagged as both alt-country and dark cabaret, same as Reverend Glasseye, so I did some research into that genre and have been checking out Stolen Babies and Dresden Dolls this evening thanks to groove shark. They are definitely not country (SB is avant metal and DD alternative-ish) but its interesting to hear the similarities.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Fox On The Rocks Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 28 2013 at 21:32
I definitely have to check this guy out. Sounds a bit like Swans/ Angels Of Lights.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Fox On The Rocks Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 28 2013 at 21:33
Throw a bit of Marilyn Manson in there too, if you know what I'm saying. Embarrassed

Edited by Fox On The Rocks - April 28 2013 at 21:33
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote DisgruntledPorcupine Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 28 2013 at 21:36
I love this scene too. Wouldn't call it alternative country though, I think more of Wilco when I think of that term. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Fox On The Rocks Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 28 2013 at 21:39
Yeah, it's too abrasive to be in that same vein. Gothic Americana, maybe? I hear some Industrial influences in there as well.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Horizons Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 28 2013 at 21:44
"The Denver Sound"

:D


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote DisgruntledPorcupine Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 28 2013 at 21:57
I've always called it gothic country, but meh. LOL
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TheGazzardian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 30 2013 at 10:48
Originally posted by Fox On The Rocks Fox On The Rocks wrote:

I definitely have to check this guy out. Sounds a bit like Swans/ Angels Of Lights.

Which guy are you speaking of? Munly?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Fox On The Rocks Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: April 30 2013 at 22:42
Originally posted by TheGazzardian TheGazzardian wrote:

Originally posted by Fox On The Rocks Fox On The Rocks wrote:

I definitely have to check this guy out. Sounds a bit like Swans/ Angels Of Lights.

Which guy are you speaking of? Munly?

Yeah definitely.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TheGazzardian Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 01 2013 at 08:37
Originally posted by ClemofNazareth ClemofNazareth wrote:

Not all the great goth/cabaret country came out of the Denver area.  The Decemberists, especially their early stuff, fits in the same broad category.

And check out Beat Circus from Boston, who are also listed here on PA under Prog Folk.  Reverend Glasseye made his solo career in Boston as well.  'Black River Falls' from Reverend Glasseye and his Wooden Legs is one of my favorite goth-country albums ever.

Also Rasputina (Melora Creager), originally from Kansas but who relocated to upstate New York and has made a decent career out of weird-ass country, folk and cabaret with nothing more than cellos and an occasional string bass or drum.

Larkin Grimm has her moments as well, and has played live shows with several of the artists listed here.

And check out Strawfoot and maybe Tarantella as well.



Alright, I've listened to all these guys now. 

Tarantella are pretty great and easily alternative country if in the dark cabaret mould, although this is not too surprising as it turns out they are yet another act related to Slim Cessna's Auto Club. 

Beat Circus have that dark cabaret sound as well but the country is missing. They are definitely awesome (I will be picking some of their music very soon) and of interest I think to those interested in this scene, but I'm not sure they are directly linked other than by the fact that a number of alt-country integrate the dark cabaret sound. Interestingly, Reverend Glasseye, Tarantella, as well as Beat Circus and Dresden Dolls, are all from Boston. Maybe "Dark Cabaret" is the "Boston Sound" to the "Denver Sound"'s "Gothic Americana".

Rasputina is as awesome as I remember and again of interest, but like Beat Circus does not seem to have as much overt country in their sound in the album I listend to (Oh Perilous World).

Larkin Grimm has her moments but I would categorise her more as folk. I saw she is called "Freak Folk", and while I don't know what that is (I've seen Joanna Newsom called that, the Fleet Foxes, and even Volcano the Bear called that), it sounds appropriate to me.

Strawfoot was definitely alt country, and I see no ties back to the Denver Gentlemen with them (they are the first band clearly in the scene I've seen as such). 

Anyways, I'm picking bones about genre a bit here just to reflect my thoughts and relate to the topic at hand, but I don't really care that much, it is ALL good music and there wasn't a think you linked I did not like ... let's say my wish list is getting a bit bigger after going through all those. Thanks for the share!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Horizons Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: May 04 2013 at 15:36
I've been enjoying 16 Horsepower's Sackcloth'n'Ashes

Thumbs Up

These guys have a great energy.
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