Friday, July 22, 2005

Mama Kangaroos is the latest project to come out on Mike Villers Genus imprint out of Philadelphia. A hefty labour of love with perhaps a touch of obsession, you may recall the Jim Carroll tribute ("Put Your Tongue to the Rail: The Philly Comp for Catholic Children") that the label previously put together. This one is subtitled “Philly Women sing Captain Beefheart”, MK offers a gamut of female interpretations from the songbook of Uncle Don with solid results. They might not all hit your particular spot but then you wouldn’t expect them to.

The opening cut, “Where There’s Woman” by Sweetie starts off fine but went all trip hoppy on me but the clatter is over soon enough. “The Past Sure Is Tense” by Winterbrief drags things back on track and even just two songs in, it’s obvious that a broad church such as this wasn’t gonna be instant. Repeated plays uncover new aspects as does the mood you’re in while you’re trying to digest it. Some attention is required, it doesn’t really play out as wallpaper.

I can’t claim to be an expert in Beefheart but I do recognise that these readings perhaps inhabit a more conventional universe than the original versions. It’d be interesting to hear if this Captfest inspires anyone who hasn’t already heard these songs to go back to the source. There is a reverence and a bounce to the sequence that might make no sense at all on “shuffle” but I think this is programmed like an album running order. Curated even. My consistent favourites go something like this. “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains” is given a Countrypolitan flavour by Nancy Falkow. I should mention right now that’d I’d heard of exactly nobody on this comp except for Amber DeLaurentis who plays on what for me is the standout, Janet Bressler’s “I’m Glad”. A transcendant slice of Philly Soul. Pure and simple. “When I See Mommy” by Tintinabulus sounds like a crash course in MX-80iness while Thorazine’s “Frying Pan” is a shouty, rooti’, tootin’ rabble flummoxer.

So then, to sum up, Mama isn’t your average tribute-ary. Given due care and attention there are dividends to be found in these 20 tracks. Some may confound, some may drive you “aff your heid” but I doubt if you’ll be bored. The proof of the pudding and all that…