Muleskinner Jones is the English answer to the Handsome Family, crossed with the off-kilter cowpunk of the Meat Puppets, say, or perhaps Butthole Surfers. It’s a hole in the current musical scene that was just begging to be filled, and MJ does so with gusto.
Muleskinner Jones is the stage name of the young James Closs, a multi-talented lad from Wiltshire. He sings all of the songs (with occasional help from relatives, including what sounds like his Mum on at least one track), pretty much plays all the instruments, and recorded these efforts at home on his Apple Powerbook. It comes out very lively and dense, packed with layers of music that sounds pretty good for a home recording.
His latest effort, Death Row Hoedown, is not quite a full-length CD with nine tracks clocking in at just shy of a half-hour. After a raucous intro track, the title song “Death Row Hoedown” sets the scene with lots of electric guitar and growling, yodelling vocals about various grisly methods of execution. “My Rented Room” is a mostly acoustic shuffling tale of a muso’s typical dissipation, with lines about “saving my pennies so I can afford a decent whiskey,” sung in a variety of voices, from deep to whiny. In “Truckstop Funeral” he gleefully bludgeons to death nearly every truck-driving song ever recorded, in a manic-depressive psychedelic blend of Flo & Eddie and Red Simpson; lines like “It’ll take more than 16 gears to save your mortal soul” are typical.
With “So Long, Mary Jones” and “Come Inside, Stranger” we get to the real meat of the matter, the death ballad, in Muleskinner Jones’ own style of course. The first is another gleeful romp, organ-driven and punkish, with a refrain of “They won’t find your body, they won’t find your bones.” The second is a waltz-time sing-song set in a haunted house, with verses that get creepier and creepier. It opens with a realistic clap of thunder, and the titular stranger is urged to ignore first the rats and bugs, then the lack of heat, and finally, oh, yeah that body on the livingroom floor… The outro features lots of spooky electronic sounds.
“Concrete Swamp” is a mercifully short track that I can only describe as a Creedence Clearwater Revival-inspired song performed as though by Killdozer, in a vocal style that approaches Tibetan throat singing in its guttural splendor. After that, it’s all denoument, with a brief snippet of “Wee Willie Winky” recited against grinding metal sounds, and a bit of hardcore “closing theme.”
Mr. Jones burst on the scene with the Terrible Stories EP, a collection of murder ballads, including probably the best-known example of the type, “Pretty Polly.” The vocals seem reminiscent of Billy Bragg’s style here. A Ms. May Closs sings the female part on “How Come That Blood on Your Coat Sleeve?” as Jones sings his part in an ironically comic voice. The lilting “Rose Connelly” sounds like a lost Donovan record. “Black Sheep Lullaby” is the creepiest of the bunch, and goes on a bit long with its upsetting refrain of “The poor little lamb cries ‘Mommy.’ ”
Musically very inventive, Muleskinner Jones is quite entertaining, especially if you’re in a morbidly comic frame of mind. Find more by Muleskinner Jones on Bandcamp.
(Red Meat, 2004)
(Red Meat, 2004)