By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight
Black Dog Records
ON THEIR ATROCIOUSLY titled debut, Let's Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later on Tonight, South Philly's Marah play country tunes that forward an assertion I consider to be utter bullshit--that working class culture is somehow more All-American than that of any other American class. Yet Marah pull it off with a fairly liberal take on traditional country that's devoid of redneck jingoism and backwater clichés. Though they honor Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt, they're more concerned with letting hints of the Beach Boys, Celtic music, gospel, and Phil Spector creep into the mix.
Marah's Dave Bielanko handles vocals, guitars, and banjos. His husky voice is raspy and strong, and throughout Let's Cut the Crap you can hear his spittle hitting the mic as he hollers and yaps. As an inner-city boy tinkering with countryish themes and tropes, Bielanko is in danger of falling prey to that predator that devours the souls of most No Depression acolytes: that big bad wolf called Irony. But Bielanko's never heard of Will Oldham, and he don't think singing with an affected twang is a joke.
"Eventually Rock" argues for the potency of rock, yet turns down the Marshalls to let boisterous banjos dominate the mix. On "Baby Love," Bielanko sputters goofball hillbilly epigrams and trucker philosophy, as fishing reels whiz and church bells chime. Only one moment is truly grating: real-life Phillies announcer Harry Kalas's introduction of the band as "velvety-throated teen idol sensations" before the song "Rain Delay." And the tease is more promising than the payoff; while the song--a Marah rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner"--is an intriguing idea, it doesn't work, eventually meandering into a dorky rewrite of "Rain, Rain, Go Away."
Yet this is all part and parcel of the band's confused attempt to assert authenticity. Marah see Pennsylvania as the great American Nowhere. Neither Northeast nor Midwest, it sits smack dab in a spot we might call the Mideast, if that name weren't already sort of taken. Pere Ubu's David Thomas finds the state's seemingly endless stretches of roads to be the perfect place to meditate on how open spaces define and confuse America's sense of itself. The same paradox percolates in Marah's music.
Bielanko is always struggling to love a city where he feels lost and downtrodden. Ultimately, he ends up embracing the mythical blue-collar Trinity: baseball, Marlboros, and whiskey. Hell, it's enough to make knee-jerk liberals like me feel pangs of patriotism.