Cessna unentitled as reviewed in PhantomTollbooth“Gather round round, gather round” for some gothic Americana that borrows from old-time revival, punk style.

I felt bemused after I had finished the first play of this gothic Americana (or is it country punk?). I have heard a few genres in my time, but nothing quite like this. Yet when I put it on a second time, more acclimatized, I was struck by how many songs I recognised and what an impression it had left on me.

Word is that this act is a live treat and they seem to have captured some of that spirit on record. Slim and his co-frontman Munly share the vocal duties, and when they sing together, you get the feeling that the crowd all join in with their hooks in a live setting.

The disc can be a bit dense in one sitting. The opening track, snappily titled “Three Bloodhounds, Two Shepherds, One Fila Brasileiro,” has a somewhat baffling storyline filled with images that swing between creepy and heroic. The main tune cries out for some release on the chorus, and gets it. The disc keeps its bouncy mood until near the end, when it starts to feel a little flat.

Their dark lyrics often display humour and a tongue-in-cheek spirit spills out into the music. When they break sharply in “The Unballed Ballad of the New Folksinger” for a call of “Gather round, round; gather round; gather round, round,” it seems like a spoof of Dead or Alive’s “You Spin me Round.”

Whatever you call their genre, individual tracks embrace a range of influences and sounds, but strangely for Americana, there is organ prominent in many of them – and it works. There’s murky Specials-styled ska in “New Folksinger;” some smart slide playing brightens “No Doubt about It;” and a military training ground call-and-response shapes the rockier “Do You Know Thee Enemy.” The most instantly appealing piece is “Thy Will Be Done,” a stomping two-step, banjo-driven, cow-punk delight, which would be a worthy addition to any playlist.

Titles like this, “Hallelujah Anyway,” and “United Brethren,” together with the red-skied church on the cover, combine to give an impression of either having faith or making fun of it – and it is not easy to see which side of the line to settle on (especially with no lyrics in the package). The son of a Baptist preacher, Cessna has not stayed with the faith, but dark Old Testament images and tent revival style have not left him and populate many of his songs. Some stories will be uncomfortable for some Christians, but I don’t sense any bad intent.

This disc is refreshingly unique with its narrative approach, yodels, zinging banjos and punk spirit. If they come to a town near you it should be worth a visit. In the meantime you could do a lot worse than downloading “Thy Will Be Done” and “The Unballed Ballad of the New Folksinger.”

Derek Walker