Ralph White, Shawn David McMillen, Book of Shadows, and Pong
Reviewed by Audra Schroeder, Fri., April 9, 2010
Ralph White's latest, The Mongrel's Hoard (Monofonus), proves yet again you can stretch the limits of Americana if you're resourceful enough. The onetime Bad Liver's approach to writing and performing has always been workmanlike, and with banjo, kalimba, accordion, and fiddle, he makes good use of decades of material. The one original tune, "Western Country," is pure White lament, but the remainder is all covers: Pink Floyd's "Fat Old Sun" and Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" ride next to 1970s folkie Barbara Keith's "The Bramble and the Rose" and obscure Aborigine band Coloured Stone's "When I'm Gonna Learn." It's a testament to White's talents that he can make them sound even older than they are. (CD release: Tuesday, April 13, United States Art Authority.) The Mongrel's Hoard-er makes a few appearances on Shawn David McMillen's latest, Dead Friends (Tompkins Square), lending backwoods charm to SDM's drowsy folk visions. Dead Friends follows up 2006's majestic Catfish, and in the interim, McMillen's fine-tuned his brain bombs. "Night Train" is akin to sleepwalking through a desert, feedback and piano flowing into the more sedate "A Morning With Dead Friends." Book of Shadows, now a quintet, knows a thing or two about balance and ambience. Its latest, The Morphail Effect (Instincto), combines ghostly incantations with long stretches of drone, the aural equivalent of a morphine drip. To snap you out of your trance, there's Pong's newest, Escobarb (Realistic). The veteran dance-party-starters' disco-punk makes another one of its discombobulated lunar landings, the result still distinctly Austin – which is to say, weird. "Applesauce" sounds like a lost Prince song, or one of his backup dancers.