Words by Ed King / Pics from http://www.sexyweirdos.co.uk
Nestled somewhere between the Anarchist’s Cookbook and a prospectus for Bristol University, is the new wave of Gyspy Folk. Fervent, raw and unashamedly live, this modern homage to the Klezmer cacophony has enjoyed triumphant endorsement – with a busy crowd and as many monikers coming out in support. Oy gevalt, Grandma would be surprised.
But as with most things in the limelight there are those that say and those that do. And it takes more than a beard and bare chest to live what you sing about. So as I sit down to review Kill the Beast, the second album from Johnny Kowalski & the Sexy Weirdo’s, my focus for the next 35mins is authenticity; the critical voice in my mind chattering like a cinema full of teenagers.
Immediately as ‘Nailbiter’ opens the 10 track return I am in a drunken room holding a chair at head height; a tight ensemble of string and wind, penned by violinist John-Joe Murray. Mazel tov.
Then bang on halfway, after a suitable build up and break, Kowalski’s guff vocals roll in; nothing instrumental is lost, neither beat nor nuance, but a borderline ferocity now marches us forward. Short, sharp, and possibly more intelligent than audible, by the second verse I’m (metaphorically) biting my nails. But I guess that’s the point.
‘When the Time Comes’ follows, with Kowalski‘s off kilter vocals plot pointing a shoulder drop Ska rhythm; something he is clearly enjoying. Sexy Weirdos’ drummer, Matthew Osborne, grabs hold of the shift with a steady backbone (and occasional stick/rim clacking) allowing Murray’s string led playtime to pursue each verse. I’m beginning to wish I wasn’t listening to this on my own.
As ‘Tequila Song’ steps up with a gregarious invitation to “bring this old town to its knees”, I am further compelled to find a friend to jump on; before a cha-cha-cha and choo-choo segue into the darker ‘Question the Answers’ and Kowalski’s more political pen. With just over a minute of this anti-manifesto to go, “what they do, what they say, doesn’t make sense anyway”, a small rocktastic riff jumps in front of another wave of strings – crashing into the final chorus.
‘Same Mistakes’ boxes out another Ska/Soul melody, with Simon Noons’s awesome trumpet solo adding to Ellie Chambers’s already adorning trombone at about 1min 42secs. Brass is playing big role in bringing this larger album to life.
A rendition of the 18th century ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ calls out to any particularly astute groupies next, before the instrumental ‘What Shall We Do With a Blonde’ lands us neatly on the last original leg of the album – the former ‘traditional’ rolling past me without thunder.
Kowalski’s vocals tease out another view of the front man’s world through ‘That’s the 1’, before the story of what not to fear takes us “past the tower blocks and fences and the things that make ‘em scared” in the album’s penultimate track, ‘The Good Shark’.
The final, title and longest (albeit by 1sec) track opens with a steady beat and plucked riff, one that twists your arm and attention. An electric guitar filters over a tempered tempo, before the album’s prominent violin once again introduces the ensemble which have bolstered the ten tracks throughout.
The pace gradually picks up for a couple of minutes, before dropping back to allow the breathy growl and confident vocal scat of Call Me Unique to pepper the otherwise instrumental – before Murray’s violin leads an almost menacing denouement; like a Bond theme stuck in the Avalon Field on groundhog day.
Then it’s over… 31mins 28secs of tremendous fun. I could have lived without ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’.
But 9 out of 10 is a solid score, and I’m once again reminded of the men behind this album and the life they’ve made in song. It’s easy to be seduced, especially by creatures in the wild, but Johnny Kowalski & the Sexy Weirdos are as believable as they come.
So whilst it’s doubtful they’ll ever appear on an NME cover or Lilly Allen single (or apparently Moseley Folk Festival bill… have I missed something?) it’s safe to say they have the chutzpah to back up ‘Carnival Punk’ – with their second studio album packed with tight musicianship and pertinent words.
And if your message is musical, social, or even just a little political, these things are kind of important.
Kill the Beast by Johnny Kowalski & the Sexy Weirdos is out on general release from May 7th. For more information, alongside digital downloads, visit http://www.sexyweirdos.co.uk