Band of Holy Joy - Funambulist We Love You

by Bill Golembeski Rating:8 Release Date:2017-10-27
Band of Holy Joy - Funambulist We Love You
Band of Holy Joy - Funambulist We Love You

Odd: the very first song “A Revivalist Impulse” really turned my head because Johny Brown’s vocals sounded dead-ringer and twins separated at birth to Ian Hunter on his All American Alien Boy album, especially on the up-tempo cut “Apathy for the Devil.”

That’s not a bad thing. And, doubly odd: this first song is really catchy and (gulp!) has hit single potential. In fact, the entire album is filled with really rough-hewn and utterly infectious melodies.

Apparently, Johny Brown is the sole survivor from the first album’s cast of characters. I purchased More Notes from the City in the Virgin Store in Edinburgh in 1987 and was hoping at the time for more rogue folk music like The Pogues or The Men They Couldn’t Hang. I also thought there was some vague William Blake reference. I was wrong twice. But at the time, I thought that JB’s vocals resembled The Clash’s Joe Strummer.

That was a record of urban arty folk rock with scratchy melodies, a bit of French cabaret music, and a whole lot of everything else thrown into the mix. Actually, it is not dissimilar to The Blue Aeroplanes’ Spitting Out Miracles which was released the same year.

This new record, Funambulist We Love You, isn’t a new version of the wheel. Quite frankly, I liked the sound of the band way back then. I also like this album quite a bit. As stated, the first song sounds like Ian Hunter, and that vocal similarity resurfaces from time to time as the record plays out. The second song “To Leave or Remain” continues the drama, and while starting with horns that recall Sixties hit singles, develops into a melody that wouldn’t be out of place on a Phil Ochs record. (I’m thinking about the beautiful “Lenny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” from the sadly neglected (and desperately needed in today’s America) Rehearsals for Retirement.

We also get a short dialogue about the meaning of the universe from Johny B. It’s that sort of record.

“A Lonesome Dove” has a great melody, but once again given the band’s artistic ethos, the music is carved into adamantine rock that yields its beauty in the midst of fusillading tough emotion. JB sings, “I smashed my head against the curb.” That’s not exactly like asking about some “answer blowing in the wind.” But through all of that, the tune is ultimately quite lovely.

You know, it’s just a thought, but perhaps I am wrong again. Maybe this album does have some vague William Blake reference, and just maybe that head against the curb bit is actually about answers blowing in the wind.

And, just so you know, we haven’t even discussed “The Song of Passionate Intensity” yet. Yeah. It is that sort of record.

But in the meantime, “The Song of Casual Indifference” (how’s that for juxtaposition?) is sad, slow, and quiet. It is beautiful, but it’s like looking at carved initials in a tree long after the two lovers have broken too many promises and left those letters to be overgrown by puckered and scarred bark that’s just doing the best it can given the circumstances. “Connecting a Ticket” is just more emotion. It’s up-tempo and almost funky, which is a nice contrast in the flow of the album. By the way, the keyboards float over all of this tough music with heavenly breath. Johny B sings, “Any way out of this world” as those keyboards swell with sad grandeur.

And, of course, the before mentioned “Song of Passionate Intensity” is insistently languid in its melody. It’s a song about a “best friend who blew out her brains.” This song pleads with blood. And there’s a rather heavy guitar exclamation point to, well, end the sentiment of the song. It’s fair to say this new album differs from those old Rough Trade releases (manic, magic, majestic and positively spooked) in that the French cabaret accordion stuff is gone, and the electric guitar and organ fill the vacancies to produce much more of a rock record.

“A Beautiful Cat” is an absolutely lovely song that again, evokes the vocal sound of the great Ian Hunter. This one turned my head once again.

 The album ends on the up-temp title tune “Funambulist We Love You.” Perhaps this is an anthem for all the tight rope walking risk takers who, like the band themselves, have given little thought to the prevailing winds, balancing above the crowd, a crowd, who is only there to hear and see the hand of hearts played, and hope to see the artist fall into the passion of the net. Well, Band of Holy Joy fell into that net many years ago. But they are still, somehow, back on that wire.

This isn’t an easy listen. But it is a beautiful listen. Johny B sings, “It’s a call for resurrection of hope and possibility.” It’s fitting that this album recalls the voice of Ian Hunter and Phil Ochs. And there’s a bit of Ray Davies, too, as he sings the plight of the guy who loves rock music but has long ago given up on hope because Elvis Presley is dead and his records have become nothing more than sale items in the back pages of some collectors’ magazine for the highest bid. Yeah, I bought that record in a Virgin Shop years ago. It was called More Tales from the City. They finished that album with the wish, “Goodnight, God Bless and Goodbye.” Those are nice things to say. And it’s really nice to hear the band say those sorts of things, once again, even after all these years.

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