Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Men of Extinction's "Pistol Grip Wallet"

Rootsy singer-songwriter-bandleader Jim Colegrove has been dealing in topical tunes since the very first Lost Country album, way back in 2001. But when he opens Pistol Grip Wallet, the new CD by Men of Extinction -- his collaboration with Kinky Friedman familiar Roscoe West -- by announcing, "I fucking guarantee there'll be a gospel quartet" (down at the "Side Show Showdown"), you get the feeling that something has changed. And indeed, it has.

During the two years Colegrove and West spent writing and recording these 13 songs, we've seen an increase in anxiety across the land. Faced with mass shootings, climate change, and a government that appears hell bent on undoing a century of social progress, it's tempting to spend all day standing on the porch yelling "FUCK!" Or we can roll up our sleeves and try to do something, anything, to try and stem the tide -- registering voters, organizing, making our voices heard on issues that matter. Or, if you're someone like Jim Colegrove, making music that reflects the tenor of the times.

Consequently, the songs on Pistol Grip Wallet have the surreal air of a communique from Spectre, Alabama (the town that time forgot in Tim Burton's Big Fish), with Colegrove and West grinning sickly through their (and our) horror. On "Picky Asshole," the persnickety protagonist bitches about broken egg yolks and his wife's choice of shoes over a bumpa-chicka rockabilly blues. "Before They Shot Kids" is disconcerting -- what seems like a slice of tuneful nostalgia at first (imagine Richard Manuel singing Brian Wilson) is undercut by the recurring title refrain.

"There Stands the Tower" sounds for all the world like Ralph Stanley playing the part of a sociopathic narcissist (so familiar after two years and change of "stable genius" that it gave me chills). The bluegrass Everyman's lament "Getalong Paul" traces the hapless protagonist's odyssey from retail working stiff to cannon fodder and back. But "Spread Your Little Thing Out," a catalog of sexual predation, was the moment when I started to question my enjoyment of this finely wrought entertainment. Recommended for roots music fans (are there such?) who aren't put off by the shiver behind the laugh.

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