Quite an Adventure Indeed
Cousins Jordan Forst and Joe Welsh (aka Joseph and Phil Medley) like to tell stories – wild, imaginative stories. The evidence is 18-fold on Over the Big Top, the new release from Louisville's appropriately named Adventure. The songwriting duo take the listener through a wild storybook of characters and situations, all riding on the strength of a raw indie-rock approach with leanings toward alt-country and '60s-era rock, a la The Who.
The album blasts out of the speakers from the first second with the squalling "Lonesome and I" and weaves its way through all manner of genre-bending romps, from Stones-like blues rock in "Every Man to His Own Depression" and rockabilly swing in "Don't Make Me Crawl."
The next step in this journey is a country-fried curveball called "I'm Out of His Mind," with sultry guest lead vocals by Jessica Skinner, who narrates a story about a woman stringing along a poor sap. As in, "I'm out of his mind/Now hand me the phone." If Patsy Cline had been a manipulative bitch, this is something she might have released. Priceless stuff.
There are times this outfit, which is rounded out by Kirk Kiefer (Yardsale) on bass and Josh Clark on drums, is reminiscent of the better days of Teenage Fan Club and even the Posies, making me think they would have fit in very nicely in the early '90s "alternative rock" scene. There's a power-pop breeziness present that makes many of the songs instant toe-tappers, and the subtle but incessantly catchy melodies in songs like "Kimberly," "The Road to Nashville" and "Something's Eating Away" will attack your brain and never let go.
And then there are the oddballs like "Clean-Up on Aisle 5," which is an acoustic tune about an unfortunate mismatch between a tent revivalist and a grocery store cashier. At least I think that's what it's about. And my favorite of the bunch is probably "Circus Song," a silly but fun tune about a circus family and the introduction of the reluctant Teen-Age Lion Tamer. This is a fun romp that is reminiscent of the Who in their prime, with a bit of Sgt. Peppers thrown in for good measure. (Although track 17, "Teenage Brain," may veer a little too close to the Who's "Happy Jack" in terms of arrangement.)
Whatever mystery the lyrics may hold, one of the key strengths here is that the music engages the listener on multiple layers. The arrangements are varied, with a number of styles lurking within the songs, and the subject matter always keeps you guessing. Quite an adventure indeed.
(P.S. The album artwork is worth the price of admission.)