Preview Review! Balthrop, Alabama-Subway Songs

Full Disclosure-I am friends with the bassist/alto saxophonist of this band.

Back in January, and before that, last June, I mentioned the band Balthrop, Alabama. Don’t remember? Go ahead and click on those links…I’ll wait.

Ok, now that we are on the same page, you can imagine that I was pretty excited to hear that on March 10, 2009, they are releasing not one, but TWO six-song EPs: Subway Songs and Cowboy Songs. I managed to get press copies, so today, we’ll do a play-by-play of Subway Songs.

The opening track, “Subway Horns,” treads on somewhat familiar territory for Balthrop: the almost manic celebration of death. Like Your Big Plans, Our Little Town‘s “Explode,” this song bounces and dances around the darkness, in this case, of the death and subsequent, prolific output of the indie set’s version of Tupac Shakur, Elliott Smith. Pascal Balthrop, AKA Jemison Thornsby (the members of the band all play under aliases) proclaims “When I heard you’d gone, I layed a dollar bet/It wouldn’t be the last that we’d heard of you yet.”

The next song, “Bride of Frankenstein,” opens with a horn riff reminiscent of Wreckx-n-Effect’s “Rumpshaker.” This is not a bad thing. This song returns Balthrop to the small town from which their previous albums came , with Mr. Jenkins mowing his lawn at midnight. About two minutes in, this one really starts to sound like the Balthrop, Alabama from their debut album. Again, definately not a bad thing.

“Prom Story” , a deut between Pascal and his sister Lauren, AKA Georgiana Starlington, is a sad story of love and death on prom night, punctuated by a punchline at the end.

“The Ocean’s Arms” is a nautical-themed folk song, similar to those by The Decemberists except for the lack of references to vagabonds and parapets. This song is a departure from Balthrop, Alabama’s normal, small-town, parochial aesthetic, but it’s fitting.

The next song, “Red Hook Pool,” is odd in that it sounds like Balthrop, Alabama, yet somehow more mature, more sure of itself. In this song, the band seems to take off its small-town costume and sing about New York. “Any minute now/I’m gonna get inside and rock this tan,” sing Pascal and Lauren, something that would have sounded out of place on Your Big Plans, but sonds fine here. This is the happiest song on the album, and no one even dies (although someone nearly drowns on falling rain)!

The final song, “My Way, the Highway” is a lament of wasting one’s life driving back and forth on the eponymous highway. It is probably the “prettiest” song on the whole EP, and again shows Balthrop, Alabama more mature than they have been in past releases.

To sum up, although this is not a concept album like Your Big Plans… (unless you cound dying as a concept), this feels like a work in itself and shows that Balthrop, Alabama are not just a one-trick pony. With the “we’re actually a small town” thing they have going, it would be easy to dismiss them as a novelty act; this EP proves that they are much more than that.

Subway Songs will be available March 10th from End Up Records.

Tomorrow….Cowboy Songs!

EDIT: Corrected “Jamison Thornsby” to “Jemison Thornsby”.

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4 Responses to “Preview Review! Balthrop, Alabama-Subway Songs”

  1. mercury727 Says:

    dying is not a concept? mcdammit!

    it sounds rather good when you describe music in words like that.

  2. […] review of Balthrop, Alabama’s upcoming Subway Songs by friend of the band Jaynova. Check it out! He promises a review of the companion album, Cowboy Songs, to follow […]

  3. […] Preview Review Part 2! Balthrop, Alabama-Cowboy Songs For my review of Subway SongsCLICK HERE. […]

  4. […] these days. Balthrop, Alabama has released 2 albums and 3 Eps (Read my review of two of those EPs HERE and HERE. In 2005, Chris released a solo EP called Vessels, and in 2007, the Ne’er Do Evers […]

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