Who's Got Trouble?


hivaree shot to prominence in late 1999 with possibly the finest album title ever (I Oughtta Give You A Shot In The Head For Making Me Live In This Dump) and a set of songs that showcased Ambrosia Parsley's occasionally bruised, occasionally mischievous singing over wistful, scared country pop. Best of all, it managed to be spooked without resorting to cloying quirkiness. Except they didn't really, though they sold half a million records, 2002's Rough Dreams never even got released in the US, and it's taken the inclusion of "Goodnight Moon" on the Kill Bill 2 soundtrack to deliver them the attention they've always deserved.

Album three gets off to a somewhat inauspicious start; opener "New Casablanca" is stark and pretty but perhaps a little too ponderous and precious. From then on, Shivaree barely put a foot wrong. Bookending the short, sweet "Someday"—where Parsley mocks someone for not taking their chance with her over wobbly organ and jaunty brass—and the meandering and jazzy "Lost In A Dream," there are two songs that any casual fan who devoured "Goodnight Moon" will appreciate.

The first of these, "I Close My Eyes," takes the slightly upset, dissolute stylings of "Goodnight Moon" and tacks it to a narrative about a child disrupting life, and perhaps lovelife, and boasts an appropriately fraught, but catchy, chorus. The second, "Little Black Mess" is even better—the opening piano promising an exquisite drama of helplessness, and the rest of the song delivers in spades. Woe-is-me has never sounded better than on a couplet like "It's true I'm sure to die out here unless / You come get me out of my little black mess," the trite pun elevated by the spot-on, worried delivery and the sighing violin and organ.

Little could prepare any listener for the sheer emotional knockout of the next track, the slow-burning stunner "Mexican Boyfriend." Ambrosia Parsley miraculously manages to make it through three minutes and forty-seconds of tear-jerking threnody without cracking or breaking down once, just so you, the listener, can do it yourself. It's an astoundingly intimate performance, and she doesn't wail her misery, she paints it with words that describe her former anticipation and her current loss; "My first cup of coffee / And my first chill / Now you'll never know my first kiss / Somebody else will." A single guitar weeps both for her, and for him.

Following such a powerful song with a deadpanned, strangely eerie cover of Eno's "Fat Lady of Limbourg" doesn't make an awful lot of thematic sense, but atmospherically it fits well enough, and the cadences and intonations of the words, as well as the tweaked arrangement are both different enough that it sounds like an original. More bizarre is the inclusion of a re-recorded track from Rough Dreams, "Gone 2 Far," but it's not disgraced or out of place in its new surroundings.

Having said that, the middle section sounds a little weaker than the finish, because the final two songs are a pair of peaks. The wry "It Got All Black" sees Parsley fancying herself in Paris, looking up from her drink, seeing Brigitte Fontaine and wondering if she should see or forget her lover, and the quietly dignified resignation of "I Will Go Quietly" is a song that perfectly encapsulates the feeling of having to leave knowing only the starting point, not the destination.

Sonically, the only possible disappointment is the fact that the enjoyable trashy pop songs that were rough diamonds hidden in the first two albums (such as "Thundercats" or "Pimp") have been left by the wayside in favour of a more unified country-cum-torch-cum-pop sound, but it's only a minor quibble. Much of the credit for this should go to Duke McVinnie, whose basslines shape a lot of these songs—the shift in dynamics from loungy to prowling in "Lost In A Dream" when the bass changes direction is a good example of this, but the whole band deserve plaudits. While they may have shrunk their range and scope slightly, the songwriting and execution is as strong as ever. For Shivaree's first album to be released to an expectant, attentive audience, Who's Got Trouble should not disappoint.

Reviewed by: Edward Oculicz

Reviewed on: 2005-02-03

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