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February, 2001 Pick of the Month
Introducing the Denver Gentlemen
Artist: Denver Gentlemen
Label: Absalom Recordings
12 tracks, 48:17 

When The Lord He Speak To Me
That Certain Kind of Woman 

In 1988, Jeffrey-Paul Norlander (now just Jeffrey-Paul) started a band called the Denver Gentlemen, which was a darling of the Denver club scene for about eight years, and was a revolving door of the top talent in that area, including David Eugene Edwards, Slim Cessna, Jean-Yves Tola, and Frank Hauser Jr.  In fact, the original line-up boasted both Jeffrey-Paul and Edwards.  In 1992, Edwards formed 16 Horsepower, and in 1996 the Gentlemen folded and Jeffrey-Paul joined 16 Horsepower for a short time, and then went on to form Hoitoitoi.  Sound complicated? Well, that's the short version of a much more convoluted story. But suffice it to say that the Gentlemen are back.  As Jeffrey-Paul is now putting together a new incarnation of this seminal band, the fine folks at indie label Absalom Recordings have seen fit to release a long-lost recording by the final line-up of the band.

"Introducing the Denver Gentleman" was recorded live in Denver's Bug Theater, which accounts for the slightly rough and underproduced sound of the disc.  But that is a good thing.  The music on this CD captures the true essence of this band: rough around the edges.  The recording, from 1995, has been gathering dust, but with the critical acclaim received by 16 Horsepower in recent years, now is the perfect time for the rest of the world to hear this music. 

I've read about the Gentlemen for years but had no clue what to expect when I first put the CD in...but I was pleasantly surprised.  The sound is very similar to that of 16HP in terms of the musical style, quirky vocals, the strange array of instruments (accordion, trombone, bass fiddle, and glockenspiel, to name a few), and also the religious imagery in the lyrics.

The album begins with "When the Lord, He Speak to Me," with the oom-pah essence of a German beer drinking tune.  From there it moves to "Blue Parrot," which put images of old country Gypsy women in my head, performing a traditional folk dance, complete with hand clapping and foot stomping.  In fact, much of this album is a melding of traditional Americana with an old-world flavor.  One thing that separates this band from 16HP is the presence of female vocals on several of the songs, including "Midday Merry-Go-Round," with Valerie Terrie offering up a delivery that is reminiscent of some of Lotte Lenya's performances of Kurt Weill material. This song even features a repeated chorus of the old hymn, "What a Friend we Have in Jesus," as if it were sung by some sort of gruff street corner choir.

Throughout the album, the vocals go back and forth between all the members of the band, which in addition to Jeffrey-Paul and Valerie Terrie includes David Willey, Mark McCoin, and Jon Stubbs.  This gives the CD a much more lively feel, and in the case of "The Potter's Field Special" the delivery and vocal exchange is something akin to a mini-musical or operetta.  Also included is an early adaptation of "The Denver Grab," a song originally written by David Eugene Edwards which eventually appeared on 16HP's "Low Estate."  The most "accessible" song on the album in terms of sound is the rollicking "Vulture Girl" with its layered vocals and upbeat tempo.

Other songs include an adaptation of "Holiday," originally written by Slim Cessna and Frank Hauser, Jr., and the final song, "All My Lady's Women," a haunting tune with equally haunting vocals.

This is a fun CD, and one that needs to be heard.  But a simple rule of thumb: If you like 16 Horsepower, then most likely you'll like this one, both from a musical and historical perspective.  But if 16HP is not your cup of tea, you might want to pass on this one as well.

Ken Mueller 1/28/2001

As far as movies that conjure up imaginary worlds go, methinks there's no better example than "The City of Lost Children". Everything in this movie, from the characters to the scenery (that of a waterfront city, dark and dank as anything) seems so eerily familiar, and yet too distant from any real time or place. And yet you're convinced that, if our world were only slightly twisted a little bit, if reality warped a tad this or that way, it really could exist. The same can be said for The Denver Gentlemen. There's something very tangible and familiar about their music, but just as much about their music that just feels out of place in our world. 

Imagine a world that consisted of leaky waterfront bars, smoke-filled cabarets, overly-extravagant burlesque houses . . . and dark alleyways where all sorts of nefarious deeds transpire. Chances are you could find The Denver Gentlemen standing on one of those fog-enshrouded street corners. A ragtag bunch, they stand with an assortment of patchwork instruments under gas lamps, playing for anyone who will listen. It's a curious blend of cabaret, swing, polka, ragtime, and more. A lazy person might label it "folk" music. But this is folk music as only gypsies, circus performers, burlesque dancers, and sideshow freaks might write. 

Leading the musical procession are the vocals of Jeffrey-Paul. Once a member of Sixteen Horsepower, comparisons with David Eugene Edwards are an easy starting place. But whereas Edwards sings with the conviction and repentance of a sinner in the hands of an angry God, Jeffrey-Paul sounds like a circus barker, inviting you to pull back the curtain and gaze on the darker sides of life.  The music swoops and swaggers, as trombones and trumpets blare out drunken melodies. The drums shuffle along, and the guitars sound like they've been broken into pieces and taped back together. It's a wonder that these songs don't fall apart within the first minute. But it's this sense of impending collapse that gives the music much of its momentum. The songs struggle to keep their balance, juggling this instrument or that instrument, swaying back and forth trying desperately not to trip over a note.

There's the circus processional of "The Lord, He Speak to Me." You're almost tempted to look up, expecting to see two trapeze artists swing dangerously high above the ground, while Jeffrey-Paul's ghostly vocals taunt them. "Mid-Day-Merry-Go-Round" starts off with a ragtime melody before a ghostly piano melody chimes in and tickles your ears. And before you know it, Jeffrey-Paul and friends are belting out a drunken chorus of "What a Friend We Have In Jesus", like some revival meeting gone horribly awry. 

Any religious intensity that the Denver Gentlemen may seem to lack (and I say "seem" only because it's nearly impossible to decipher just what Jeffrey-Paul is singing) is more than made up by the sheer spectral quality that their music contains. It's not a dull listen, because one never knows just how a song is going to end up. Even repeated listens are as baffling as the first. These songs just don't sound like something from this world. Rather, they exist in some alternate world that's a murky reflection of our own, one that's sometimes reflected in the artwork of Toulouse-Lautrec, or the decadence of the Moulin-Rouge. Somewhere in the midst of that world, in a candlelit club, Jeffrey-Paul and the rest of the Gentlemen are performing tonight. Your seat's ready, the absinthe has already been poured, and the show's just about to start.

Jason Morehead       02/17/2001


 

Jason Morehead is also the publisher of Opuszine, a webzine devoted to independent music and cult cinema.  All of his reviews can also be found at http://www.opuszine.com
   
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