Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – Unentitled (Music Review)

Unentitled cover

Slim Cessna's Auto Club - Unentitled

The gothic Americana of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club seems to be both authentic and an affectation. Intelligent, literate, and often unforgiving of the simple country characters who populate their songs, the lyrics nonetheless have an honesty that could only come from living the lives they deconstruct. Cessna’s adenoidal voice has a great range, but is not easy for country music fans to embrace. Like their previous releases, Unentitled will find devoted fans and rabid haters.

There are haunting, almost baroque ideas throughout. In Cessna’s world, problems with childbirth are a source of family shame, folksingers are ritually castrated, and finding the right dog to guard your property can become a consuming, self-destructive quest. The song quality varies widely, though. For example, “Three Bloodhounds, Two Shepherds, One Fila Brasileiro,” that song about finding the right dog, has little to offer on repeated listens. “United Brethren,” on the other hand, stays interesting due to its simple style and guilt-ridden vocals (in this story, the townspeople convert between Christian denominations in hopes of ending a drought). “The Unballed Ballad of the New Folksinger” has a menacing air appropriate to a song about castration, but “Thy Will Be Done” is simply monotonous and plodding. On balance, fortunately, there are more good moments than bad: Whispered chants of “dig the pit, fill the pit” and a militaristic call-and-response of “do you know the enemy?/yes we know it truthfully” provide the hooks for a band that refuses to simply make catchy music.

The gem of Unentitled is “Hallelujah Anyway”, a seven-minute story about a corrupt town leader demanding grandchildren, even though their birth would mean his daughter’s death. Told by the hapless fool who is being pressured to father a child, it takes on an air of impending tragedy. “Hallelujah Anyway” has scene changes, singers for the multiple characters, and an uncomfortably vague moral lesson.

Unentitled is worth hearing, though it demands effort of the audience before it can be appreciated. Its chief failing is that not all songs continue to reward that attention after the initial listen, but the ones that do provide an experience that no other band can offer. Not everyone will love Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, but everyone should have an opinion on them.

Grade: B-

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