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Quartet No Strangers to 'Ghostland'

 

BY DAVID SALLINGER, Daily News Entertainment Editor

September 27, 2001

 

 

Next exit: The wild west. Actually, The Deliberate Strangers' new album is "Ghostland Next Exit," but since they've brought a long-missed genre of music back to life, only corporeal Stetson-topped beings can get off anywhere along their route.

 

The Strangers have deliberately scheduled a CD-release party for Saturday at Club Cafe, 56 S. 12th St., South Side. The album is on the Rattler label, so watch where you step.

Joining the band for the unveiling will be Carol Lee Espy, freed for a few hours from her WQED "On Q" duties; Peter Salvati (Plastic Jesus), Becky Corrigan (Drag Strippers/Polish Hillbillies), Steve Cunich (Freeway Killers) and Mike Moran (karaoke boss).

Founded back in '84, the Strangers have disc-ed their way into the marketplace before with titles like "Hog Wild and Pig Bitin' Mad."

Even with that knowledge, it was hard to predict what to expect from the Strangers this time around, especially with a title suggesting something spooky.

It was instant smiles and the occasional chuckle when it was discovered the quartet isn't afraid to mount up and ride 'em toward the sunset. the only thing missing is a guest appearance by Frankie Laine or maybe Gene Autry.

Don't be misled; we're not talking escapees from the "Louisiana Hayride." There's enough contemporary feel to the tracks so you know you're not in Kansas anymore, or even driving dogies across it. The cowboy nature of a portion of the content actually is more in keeping with the southern rock espoused by groups like The Outlaws.

And when multi-guitarist Tom Moran is riding shotgun (OK, enough with the allusions), you know there's going to be the kind of energy and edge The Sons of the Pioneers never could have dreamed of.

The Strangers take their first exit to "Helldorado," with its fiddle and galloping rhythm and warning that there's no escape from the title town. Strong harmonies, to boot (sorry). Another dip into that genre is a real keeper, "That's What the Cowboys Did," a cautionary swing tune about following the wrong role model; it easily can become a sing-along.

Gypsies show up for another of the favorite tracks, "LaLa Sideshow," and although gypsies roam our countryside, as well, they most often roam European backroads. Think something out of the Kurt Weill/"Threepenny Opera" songbag.

The band's variety is further found in "Homesick for Heaven," a folky, sorta Celtic study about waiting around to give up the ghost. Emotion is explored via sad violin.

"Heartland," no matter what its title conjures up, is the anti-Mellencamp, with its humorous reference to the "I" states (Indiana, Illinois, Iowa ...). A trip to garage-band-land, the song revives memories of Bonnie and Clyde or "Natural Born Killers" types. Wild guitar suggests the violence of the moment, both effective and scary.

Rhythm & blues turns up in "Give Me Whiskey," a mix of George Thorogood and Fabian's "Turn Me Loose" (since the latter only lives in Fayette County, maybe he'll sit in some night). It's probably a fun song in concert, especially if performed a la Elvis in his prime.

Another worth listening closely to is the album-closing "Sad Clown Tattoo," its smarmy country-western approach combating less-than-happy lyrics, amusing in its dichotomy.

"Ghostland" also can be reached via "Highway Blue," deep vocal storytelling, a mysterious driving song; "Nothing But a Bitch," a pleasant character study of a woman who points the way to Perdition and a woman seeking revenge (nice lyrical development, a roadhouse blues if your roadhouse is along the Santa Fe Trail); "Stone Phantom," Lou Reed-y dangerous vocals are almost an incantation, calling forth dark forces;

"Catfish" could become the theme of Mon-Yough fisherman, at least those of us who drowned worms in those days of dirtier water (here, it's a languid blues that builds both in energy and in its sense of confrontation); "Serpent Mound" is ghostly, another touch of the Celtic, another argument that Irish music inspired Appalachian sounds;

"Dietz 8" is back to riding along with the herd, about a defunct mining town; "Wretched Holy Ghost" echoes regrets while making you want to slam your gas pedal to the floor. Rounding out the package is "Hangman," not about the game played by kids (you think you have an iffy job?), but a kind of jazzy, industrial, rockabilly, demonic jam. What more could you want?

(Hint: If you're looking for something to stuff into your kids' Halloween stockings, what better than an album called "Ghostland"?)