Raised Right, Gone Wrong

Venus Throw

Bossy Lil' Thing Records, 2010


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Sometimes it’s about the lyrics. Sometimes it’s about the music. Sometimes it’s about the guitar, or the drums, or the keyboards. And sometimes, it’s about the vibe.

Venus Throw is all about the vibe.

Bruce Smith (vocals/guitar), Johanna Moorman (keys/vocals) and Herbie Gimmel (drums) are not going to knock you over with musical or lyrical complexities or exceptional vocal quality. But man, do they know how to create an atmosphere—and they’re very clear-cut about what that atmosphere is. This is their sophomore release; their debut was titled Film Noir, as is one of the tracks here, and that title points directly to what this music is—cinematic rockabilly noir, Elvis, Bo Diddley and Booker T. & The MGs playing the soundtrack to a Vincent Price movie in a dark alley.  (Gothabilly?)

Song titles like “Black Valentine,” “Black And Shiny Beast,” “Film Noir” and “Skeleton Tree” only accentuate the “dancing in the graveyard” factor. Even the cartoonish cover art fits the theme; in places this Southern-tinged album plays like Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Scooby Doo.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The proceedings open energetically with “12 Glass Soldiers,” whose Bo Diddley beat Smith matches with vocals that alternate between deadpan John McCrea speak-singing and a throaty George Thorogood growl. “Black Valentine” emphasizes the McCrea influence with a virtual spoken-word narrative.

“Girl With A Gun” revs the engine hard once again, driving the beat and delivering this superb chorus: “When a girl’s got a gun, a boy better walk the line / Thought I was through with my confession, she introduced me to Smith and Wesson.” This one makes me smile every time.

The creepy factor ratchets up on “Goodbye Jeffrey Lee,” about the death of a blues player and his journey to the afterlife, and “Black & Shiny Beast,” a rockabilly barnburner. In places this Elvis-themed tune is almost profound—“Like a human Rorshach test, he defined the world / Couldn’t define himself”—yet it’s full of campy/creepy atmospherics: “Dreams of rockabilly hell / I wonder why Elvis Presley fell.”

At mid-album, the instrumental “Bossy Lil’ Thing” comes off like a brief psychotic break… psychedelic rockabilly, anyone? Then “Secret South” comes in with a sort of rough-edged BTO-comes-to-Alabama feel. The atmospherics themselves become the song on “Film Noir,” whose narrative consists of a string of familiar phrases and images one might experience during, as Smith puts it, “Long rainy evenings reading Raymond Chandler.” Closer “It’ll Be Me” accentuates the rockabilly vibe with a storming little thumper full of stinging solos and cowboy yips and hollers. 

A little Internet research reveals the band’s current lineup includes only Smith from the trio that made this album; and that’s too bad, as Moorman’s background and harmony vocals formed a nice counterpoint to Smith’s lead voice. One can only hope the new crew is equipped to deliver the sort of vocal interplay found on this disc.

In the end, Venus Throw feels a little gimmicky, to be sure—but the gimmick works. This album might not change your world, but it will definitely take you away to someplace new and fascinating for 35 minutes or so, and it’s well worth taking that ride.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2011 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Bossy Lil' Thing Records, and is used for informational purposes only.