Tuesday, November 27, 2007

sell this place

when i was in high school, i'd go music shopping pretty much every weekend (after getting my allowance) down on st. mark's place. my favorite music store was sounds, because a) they were as stuck up as those know-it-alls at kim's down the street and b) they had a 88¢ bin. while most of the 88¢ albums deserved their marked-down price (they sucked), i did manage to find some gems, one of which i still listen to (also, i taught myself how to juggle to its opening song). that album is sell this place by kill henry sugar, released in 2002 by surprise truck records.

kill henry sugar are a folk duo from new york who have recently gained attention as joan baez's backing band (yes, also on the weeds song), though their own musical legacy should not be scoffed at. billed as "folk music from the roots of gotham," kill henry sugar released their fifth LP this year, entitled swing back and down, which has received excellent critical responses, though without accompanying popular acclaim. that is an unfortunate constancy for kill henry sugar, whose wistful folk-pop deserves more.

sell this place is neither revolutionary nor reactionary; it's just plain good. songwriter erik della penna has an ear for simple, alluring melodies, like the banjo-picked one on "mussolini," a lighthearted look at the italian dictator's demise, which is often only fleshed out by dean sharenow's electric guitar. della penna's lyrics are smart and informed, his musical stories captured in three to four minute bursts with beginning, middle, and end. "his trumpet's gone" is one such song, a touching ditty about a jazz boy's missing trumpet. the song opens with his horrified discovery as della penna sings "broken were his dreams," sees him as he frantically searches for it and "vanishe[s] from the scene," and we see him at the end, with "a steady job, he never makes a sound."

sell this place is front-loaded with catchy songs, like "little faker," which is so carefully produced that it seems to have been the album's first (only) single. della penna and sharenow are accompanied by a brushed snare and organ, sharenow's guitar sly and suspicious, dropping away under della penna's repeated "cuz he's such a little faker." "in the mission" is a sweet ballad, delivered in della penna's slightly breathy, melodious tenor with a minimal amount of instrumentation. "bending spoons," on the other hand, has a lot of jazz guitar, though the overarching sound is that of old-style country music.

kill henry sugar is a band devoted to playing the music of old new york - their new album features a song named "tammany hall" - and their sound carries the simple ring of authenticity. the past several years have seen an explosion of creativity in music, albums and artists carving new niches of style that don't even have names, but it's nice to come back to an artist like kill henry sugar and a sound that doesn't need to be over-intellectualized to be comprehensible.

kill henry sugar - "mussolini" & "his trumpet's gone"
buy sell this place from your local independent record store and
newer khs releases from surprise truck entertainment.

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