Burn Witch Burn
Razler Records / Lightyear Entertainment, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/11/2000
Okay, I can now say that I've heard everything.
Remember the late, great Irish band The Pogues? Man, were they a refreshing drink of water, raucously reveling in their heritage with some of the best Irish music ever committed to tape. Now, imagine what would happen if you combined The Pogues with the punk group The Dead Milkmen, and got Natalie Merchant to do some vocals.
The end result, Burn Witch Burn, has a sound which is surprisingly good -- no, make that surprisingly excellent, and their self-titled debut album is the solid, steel-toe boot in the ass that music so desparately needs.
Until their music starts invading the airwaves like our winged friends in Hitchcock's The Birds, possibly Burn Witch Burn's trump card is that they're fronted by Rodney Linderman -- best known as Rodney Anonymous, formerly of The Dead Milkmen. (Gee, what a coincidence!) But if you pick this CD up expecting to hear Dead Milkmen-like punk, you're in for a wake-up call.
Trading vocals with Vienna Linderman (who also contributes violin to Burn Witch Burn), Rodney Linderman delivers his traditional off-kilter, slightly out-of-tune, spoken-like-Dylan vocals on Burn Witch Burn... all of which is laid over a bed of Celtic-influenced acoustic music. With multi-instrumentalist Bill Fergusson, guitarist/mandolinist Rob Piekarski, bassist Steve Demarest and drummer Todd Yoder laying down the musical foundation, there's only one trail for this band to take - and that's their own.
You really wouldn't expect such a mixture to work, but Burn Witch Burn clicks from the beginning. Tracks such as "Beaumont Arkansas," "How Beth Found Fame," "Parson's Farewell" and "Painting The Furniture Black / Harvest Home" all burst forth from the speakers like a well-timed fireworks show. The alternating vocals of the Lindermans are what keep things fresh and flowing naturally.
Only one mis-step is made along the way; "Treetop Flotilla" is almost a nod to the Dead Milkmen with its nonsequitur links of vocals. All that's missing is the sloppily-loose playing of Rodney Linderman's former band to complete the mental picture. It's the only moment on the entire album that feels out of place.
But Rodney Linderman is also responsible for the most powerful song on the disc - "The Mayor's Story," complete with its twisted tale and captivating melody. Somewhere, Shane McGowan is smiling at this one; it's just bizarre enough for me to believe it could have come from his pen.
So who is the target audience for Burn Witch Burn? Simple: anyone who appreciates good music that's well-executed and isn't afraid to take chances. All these definitions apply to this band -- and I'm sure hoping this is just the beginning of a long, fruitful career for this group. This album just came out, and I am already jonesing for their next release.