The Pine Valley Cosmonauts
The Executioner's Last Songs
Songs of murder, cruelty, and
mob-law done to benefit Artists
against the Death Penalty for the Illinois Death Penalty Moratorium Project
"Knoxville Girl," Brett Sparks
of the Handsome Family
All songs recorded , mixed and mastered
by ken sluiter at kingsize Sounds Labs, Chicago IL
|The Pine Valley Cosmonauts
The Executioner's Last Songs
Review by Nobby Knape
Brett Sparks of the Handsome Family sings about the Knoxville Girl, 'we all know so well'. He picks up a stick and beats her to death. The song is about hard work: beating, throwing her around and at the end drowing her. The guy has no reason except that he doesn't want to marry the girl "that he loves so well". Is this an increase in brutality compared to that guy in Reno? Unlike that one he doesn't complain when they lead him into prison. Flames of hell are all he can see. Too me these mountain songs have the strangest lyrics. They are bloody, they show no reason, violence is all around. Are these the right songs to fill a record against death penalty? Maybe you haven't noticed, but I'm talking about:
Jon Langford and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts: The Executioner's Last Songs - Songs of murder, cruelty, and mob-law done to benefit Artists against the Death Penalty for the Illinois Death Penalty Moratorium Project. While already the first PVC record alreday explored 'the dark and lonely world of Johnny Cash', this new one is a much deeper exploration.
Murder is bloody violent, may it be done by a privat person or by the state of Texas. And since the installment of GW Bush as president death penalty has become an issue even more than before, noticed all around the world. I can't hear the record without argueing from my european point of view. Is this, the state run murder the core of US justice, is it part of the picture or an expression of fundamentalist madness Europe has overcome by now?
I must confess I was surprsed by an email I got a while ago. I had written a review of a Steve Earle show, where he talked about his activities against death penalty. A woman told me that she loves Earle, sees him as a great artist, but on the other hand was strictly opposed to his view on this question. How can one devide a person from everything this person stands for? So maybe it's these strange contradictions, these black holes in perception that make me wonder about the USA. So my approach to the record was centered about the lyrics and I have the feeling of hearing about a foreign and strange country still occupied with medieval myths and obsessions.
A few days before I heard the record first I had listened to the first PVC record mentioned above. Not only in comparison to this one from 1995 I hold this to be a major step in the development of Jon Langford's musical cosmos and recorded work. There's no flop but several tracks stand out:
'Oh Death' is quite diferent to Stanley's version on the 'Oh Brother'-compilation, but in no way less impressive. It's done by Diane Izzo. Steve Earle's performance of 'Tom Dooley' builds a link between the old mountain tune and the present: mandolin and fuzzy guitar side by side. 'The hangman's song' by Puerto Muerto was kind of a surprise to me, a group I had not heard before. It's a crime to ignore them: they truly deserve deeper investigation and listening. And maybe that's the strongest point in favor of this record: (To me) unknown artists stand alongside with more popular names and it's not that the heavier names deserve all the credits and the rest goes along as fillers. So for me personally the record brought some new names along for whom I will look out for in the future.
Jon Langford and Sally Timms' song is the sweet 'The plans we made'. It's another Lonesome Bob tune but much more impressive than his own 'Pardon Me'. Jonboy's rolling Welsh 'r' and the haunted voice of Sally Timms is quite similar to Sally Timms latest solo record and to their collaboration almost 2 years ago. I don't know how these accents work out for US ears but I dig them more each year.
The songs are often haunting, some are funny and most of them are accompanied by an incarnation of the Pine Valley Cosmonauts that sounds to be the finest ever. So for all who already thought that the Bob Wills cd was great music: let me tell you that this is one step beyond. And the most promising thing is: there'll be a vol. 2.