Review: Black TarPoon ‘Probable Caws’

Of all my musical discoveries this year spent writing for The Sleeping Shaman, Black TarPoon were the most fun. The Thad EP was my first exposure to the Corpus Christi country, folk and punk outfit and is where the love affair began. My recent interview with guitarist and vocalist Jesse James revealed that Probable Caws ‘is probably the best work we’ve ever done’, therefore it was a no-brainer when I was asked if I fancied reviewing this sophomore release.

Black TarPoon 'Probable Caws'

Moth Song was one of two tracks to be previewed on The Shaman (the other being Ten Thousand Throats) and features the throaty Tom Waits vocals of Black Eyed Vermillion’s Gary Lindsey. It moves along at a steady pace, the country-punk offerings recalling vintage Violent Femmes. A bracing opener. What To Regret While You’re Regretting featured on the Blacked Out At Muddy Roots Split 7” with Black Irish Texas and is longer than the original by thirty-eight seconds leaving it to feel more fully realized and accomplished as a result.

During my aforementioned interview with Jesse he stated that ‘we were still trying to find our sound when we first recorded Creature From The Black TarPoon…and we want to do them justice’, this would account for the inclusion of three tracks from that release. Ghost On The Highway, the first of these (the other two being The Dogs and Swing) has a twangy Rawhide feel which coincidentally reminded me of The Dead Kennedys’ cover of that track. I could imagine it fitting in quite well on Alex Cox’s Straight To Hell soundtrack alongside Ennio Morricone and Joe Strummer.

The melancholic Ten Thousand Throats has an introspective beauty about it and is certainly one of the darker sounding numbers. While hardly reaching Joy Division levels of solipsism, it nonetheless is indicative of the band’s ever evolving songwriting skills. The Dogs is an anti-drug song that even the most chemically imbibed could get behind such as its William S Burroughs lyrical quality. The track was always something of a slow burner but the addition of Bil Zarate on banjo and Kurtis Machler on piano only serve to amplify the sense of hopelessness.

an album packed full of extraordinary scope and vision…

After the doom and gloom of the preceding number, Poor Old St Peter (thanks to Alvaro DelNorte’s accordion), is significantly more upbeat. Think shades of Meat Puppets Swimming Ground but with an Irish pub sing-along twist ala The Pogues. There isn’t much to say about Trash Messiah, the kind of track that Black TarPoon can turn out in their sleep. A decent enough listen but for the most part rather filler-ish and unremarkable. Head On A Pike brought to mind Husker Du’s She Floated Away with the sea shanty feel, though unlike the Husker’s it took a couple of listens to fully warm up to before it finally clicked.

The faithful are brought back into the fold with the jaunty Low while Sarita (from The Thad EP) will resonate with anyone who has suffered heartbreak. Down In The Willow Garden is two and a half minutes of pure Southern charm and will leave you with a massive smile on your face, Ice Tea being purely optional of course. Concluding track Swing always struck me as being akin to a Misfits song and as a fan of all things Glenn Danzig I was delighted to hear its inclusion.

The album may prove a shock to long-term fans who were expecting the strictly country-punk stylings of old, persevere however and you are left with an album packed full of extraordinary scope and vision, as well as sheer musical variety and ambition.

Label: Roots Union Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Scribed by: Reza Mills