CD Review of Angels of Destruction by Marah
Recommended if you like
Steve Earle, Exile on Main Street, Austin Lounge Lizards
Label
Yep Roc
Marah:
Angels of Destruction

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD

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T
his is it: Finally, an alt-country answer to Exile on Main Street. This record not only reaches the Stones' finest moment, but surpasses it by dipping deeper into the American musical catalog, stitching a beautiful quilt of blues, country, folk, and everything else this country has to offer in the realm of popular music, back to the 1920s. ‘Twas such a pain in our collective American backside that the Stones -- a bunch of Limeys – were the ones to record the most sloppy, definitive American blues-rock album. Incredibly, Jagger and his henchmen bottled the spirit of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, and James Brown and -- through some sort of nuclear guitar fission -- created the most deliciously magical noise since Robert Johnson himself strummed his guitar and watched as the tra-a-ain left the stayyy-shion. It gave a lot of rock fans be the same sinking feeling NASCAR fans will get when a Toyota car wins the "Great American Race," the Daytona 500. (When that happens, it will be an all-time great accomplishment. We'll give the driver, car, and racing team their props, because they will legitimately have earned them. Then we'll head on over to our favorite watering hole and lament nostalgically about how Detroit used to make all the world-beaters.)

Marah, with Angels of Destruction, takes back the blues-rock mantle for the Yanks, with its own gorgeously sloppy magnum rock opus: Listen closely and you'll hear banjos, accordion, tuba, fiddles, a baritone sax and even a calliope in the mix. Oh, and bagpipes. But that's not to say Angels of Destruction is some sort of nostalgia cruise for music-history buffs, or a scorecard exercise for the folk Luddites looking to see how many obscure instruments a band can jam into their arrangements. It's a rock record dripping with bluesy rock, loose but not to the point of self-conscious raggedness. The one exception would be the unlisted bonus track "Tippecanoe County Correctional Theme Park," which is very drunk and circus-y--appropriately so, having touched off a hilarious online war between the band and the Lafayette, IN locals in the wake of bandleader Dave Bielanko's arrest for public intoxication after falling asleep on a couch in the town's Holiday Inn lobby. It's one part Pavement, one part Sebadoh, and six parts Exile. It's loaded with good beats you can dance to. Bielanko's voice has an unpolished roughness like Jagger, a little out-of-tune, peculiar intonation coupled with a less-menacing-than-Mick sneer that adds a Stones-y feel to the Marah sound.

You could probably have said of the band's early albums from a decade ago -- fr'instance, 1998's Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight -- that Marah was trying too hard to sound trendily untogether. But that's not the case any more. Maybe 15 years of being on the road and sharpening their act led to this; maybe newcomer Christine Smith on keys struck a new creative spark within the band. Either way, they got this religious "angels and devils" lyrical theme bubbling under the songs, giving the whole work a "Faraway Eyes" kind of theme to it. No question that certain cuts -- the title track for one, "Old Time Tickin' Away,"  and "Wild West Love Song" for two others -- come straight out of the noisy Exile playbook. "Angels on a Passing Train," "Santos de Madera," and "Blue But Cool" come from a mellower, more melodically sophisticated country home than edgy Exile blues like "Ventilator Blues" or "Sweet Black Angel." These poppy numbers  are made more for Austin TX or Athens, GA's beery clubs than the grimy silt of the Delta blues shacks. But they work, all the same.

Maybe comparing Angels of Destruction to Exile's a little over the top. Or perhaps it's a product of a decaying mind that's heard way too much Grand Funk to ever truly function normally again in society. Happily, the cool thing about musical tastes is that you get to decide for yourself and tell critics like us where to stick our hoary olde adjectives. But whatever you do, give this record a serious listen; you'll be a better music fan for it.

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