I saw the Perch Creek Family Jugband at the Melbourne Recital Centre once. The band’s fun persona was a bit odd plopped into the MRC’s more formal auditorium (and more staid audience), but I really enjoyed the band’s relaxed style and enjoyment of playing together, ignoring the brutal deception of one band member not actually being part of the family.
Jumping on the Highwire is the Family’s second album, following from their 2011 release Tall Tales. The tracks showcase the bands genre-wandering inclinations, taking a bit from folk, a bit from bluegrass, some roots and classic rock.
While the album on the whole is well performed, and songs are usually solidly-written, there was something missing for this reviewer. It took a while to identify it, but when I listened back to some recordings from the traditions that Perch Creek Family Jugband draws from, I realised the missing ingredient: rawness and a bit of fucked-up-edness.
A lot of the heritage that is drawn on for Jumping on the Highwire comes from music traditions that revel in the rough, the broken, the impromptu, the unplanned jam session. The band’s website bio describes their style as”steam-powered roots music plugged into 3,000 volts of inner city creative energy and a fearless spirit that sparkles with imagination and individuality.” Unfortunately, the recording of these tracks cleans up the mess and noise far too much, leaving none of the dirt under the fingernails that characterises so much of the joy of these music styles.
This is particularly noticeable in the ballads and more angsty songs such as Big Things Calling or The Great Unknown, where the clear and smooth recording actually distracts from what should be a more melancholic track. The youth of the band also adds to the lack of authentically tortured blues personality (the old “dog’s dead, and I can’t complain to my woman, because she’s left me for another man who shot me, and now I’m on a train, and I don’t know where I’m going, but mother’s given me a bottle of moonshine, which might kill me” tropes).
Fortunately, the band’s inherent vibrancy and enthusiasm is given more leash to run free (and feels more in place) for the upbeat tracks, from the driving and catchy Mother of my Mother, the classic rock twist-and-shout of Bitchin’ Betty Lou, and the New Orleans drawl of Why’d You Do That For?.
While the band’s performances are hard enough to fault – barring some missteps in lyrics or song writing – the biggest fault is the lack of danger, grit and sweat that give this kind of music personality. I’m genuinely optimistic that with more time and more heaving guts audible in the recording, that the next album will better represent the energetic band that Perch Family Jugband is on stage.
Originally published in Rocket.