I was rather shocked to find that this John Hartfordy roots musician was once a member of Pentagram, a doom-metal group I've a strong liking for, but, er, possess only the first LP (Relentless). Carmichael pitched in during the late 80s (the band itself formed in the early 70s) and his involvement hasn't been too heavily covered in the music press, mainly limited to noting that he joined them and also Internal Void. Thus, I can't comment on that side of his work, save to say that if it's anything like the early Pentagram, then it has to be good.
On Queen Fareena, though, he's changed up completely, one could even say 'shockingly', and the Mississippi steamboat on the CD cover lets you know just how much. Carmichael still plies the guitar but gone are all the effects pedals and screamers. He's now added banjo, xylophone, and 'bones' (trombones? drums? marimba? real bones?) to the armada along with a half-dozen sessioneers. This is 100% old-timey St. Louis / N'orleans stuff, with most of the tracks hand-picked from among some of the best the hoary estimables wrote…especially when they have a smart-ass slant to 'em. The band plays as though born to it, and Jean-Paul Gaster is particularly impressive on the drums, always rolling the beat along with nary a hint of the mundane, cementing the rhythmic bedrock while serving up engaging beats, supple and inventive.
Carmichael's voice is frequently an easygoing sprechestimme more than anything else. One can easily picture the guy wearing a bowtie, arm garter, and straw hat while ambling across a bulb-lit stage, velvet curtains draped in the background, a mellowed pitchman joining the band for a stroll along backdropped paintings of picket fences and dirt roads lined with periwinkle, bougainvillea, and white roses. Scott Rich blows a boozily crowlined trumpet (great solo in Booker Blues) while Carmichael sticks chiefly to the banjo, playing the guitar in quite similar fashion, as in Untrue Blues.
She's Funny That Way kinda typifies the whole thing: breezy, swozzled, entertaining, antebellum, and more than a little snarky-worldly. Thus, there's plenty to like here, served up low-smokin', swaybacked, and scintillating (great engineering job), reason to wanna get yourself all up in your own grill, traveling backwards to find what's still being lost all too easily in a mad chart rush in other groups.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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