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Album Review

If you call your band Jesus H Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse you better be ready to bring some serious mojo to the party. It's a name that's guaranteed to piss people off and produce a strong reaction, and the band lives up to its snarky moniker with 13 tasty little gems that take a jaundiced view of modern life in all its vexing complexity. The Hornsmen play in a variety of styles that reference everything from blues shuffles to ska syncopations to new wave jitter. They keep the party going with their energetic presentation and the terrific vocals of lead singer and songwriter Risa Mickenberg, a stylist who can shift from girlish merriment to smoky solemnity in the batting of an eye. There is indeed a horn section, but it doesn't take center stage, except on the new wave/ska/B-movie theme instrumental "The Vixen." Mostly, it's part of a unified front that puts everything into the service of the song, and the songs here are uniformly superb. If you think of the the B-52's doing songs written by Elvis Costello and arranged by Nick Lowe you'll be in ballpark, but the band has a skewed personality that's all its own. Take "Back Burner Guy," for example. It sounds like a '60s era girl group pop tune, but the attitude of callous narcissism is contemporary. Mickenberg sounds gleeful as she keeps her second string beau at arms length with a teasing vocal. "You'll never kiss me, so don't even try," she sings, with enough of a smile in her voice to keep the sap hanging on. "Vanity Surfin'" is indeed a surf tune, but it's about people who surf the net to search for themselves for a cheap kick and is a lot funnier than this dry description might lead you to believe. "I Miss Your Arm" is a late-night salon standard that could have been written in the '40s, a song of lost love that Mickenberg sings with aching sincerity. "Alcoholics in My Town" is either laugh-out-loud funny, or a pathetic commentary of small town life; it probably depends on your viewpoint or drinking habits. It's a slow bluesy tune with a touch of surf guitar twang that paints little vignettes of the loners and losers we've all known. "I Hope You're Happy" is a modern talking blues with a deadly punch line, about trying to come to terms with a failed relationship. Mickenberg and Joel Shelton, the band's guitarist and co-songwriter, sing the lyrics with a deadpan delivery that intensifies its deadly irony. The Hornsmen have obvious influences, but they've been blending into the band's unified vision. Their literate, darkly humorous lyrics, inventive arrangements, and the edgy, effervescent vocals of Mickenberg make them something special. ~ j. poet, Rovi

Happier Than You, Jesus H Christ and The Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse
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