In Perspective
The Holy Modal Rounders

The Holy Modal Rounders

55th Anniversary Super Deluxe Double LP

Live in ‘65 & Indian War Whoop

Don Giovanni Records

We are deep in a Doctor Demento world when spinning the Holy Modal Rounders. HMR (ok, I’m lazy) sprang from the early 1960s New York folk music scene. It’s a delicious irony: NYC hipsters with subway tickets reveling in the hokey music of early 20th century Appalachian Americana. The band operated under several different names and scored a big hit on the Doctor Demento show with the massive novelty hit “Boobs a Lot.” But is that all they are? A novelty folk act with penchant for the ridiculous? I think they’re a bit more than that. Listening to these two albums, I hear the great tradition of people in lonely locations doing their best to entertain themselves through a language of music and lyrics that relate to the reality of their situation.

As I track Live in ‘65 (their only live record), I hear a violin used as a rhythm instrument, a guitar struggling to make a usable melody, and two vocalists who have wisely not given up their day jobs. I also hear a sly humor, a self deprecating art style that, like a modern painting proclaims, “yes, my art consists of random paint splatters from random cans of paint from the mis-mixed paint bin at Home Depot.” If I have to pick a favorite track here, the surrealist “Random Canyon” forms a modest pinnacle among other dwarfish tunes. There are traditional songs here, “Flop Eared Mule” and “Baltimore Fire” have roots in jug bands, Appalachia, and other remote hinterlands of our great nation.

Indian War Whoop is not only a track on Live in ‘65, it’s also the title of the second collection of tracks I received. It’s an energetic project, and there are real war whoops in the opening track. If some of these titles may not be PC by today’s standards, just recall this is a re-issue from a less enlightened period. The past is what it is. But moving forward, we find the gem “Cocaine Blues.” It’s a New Orleans-influenced blues number and an outstanding jug band tune that may be the highlight of the entire collection. There’s a lot more blues: “Cocaine Blues,” “Football Blues,” and “Bay Rum Blues” all explore the mystic styling of this off-the-wall musical collective.

The closest comparison I can offer is these guys were a musical equivalent of a Fire Sign Theater live concert. It’s not for everyone, but it possesses an internal logic, if only you can discern it. These guys are 1960s weird, and if you’re tired of modern boy bands and endless synth thumping dance music, this will most certainly reset your acoustic compass.

Don Giovanni Records


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