The Mountain Goats – Jenny from Thebes (2023)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 39:48 minutes | 855 MB | Genre: Indie Rock
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Merge Records
Jenny from Thebes began it’s life as many albums by The Mountain Goats do, with John Darnielle playing the piano until a lyric emerged. That lyric, “Jenny was a warrior / Jenny was a thief / Jenny hit the corner clinic begging for relief,” became “Jenny III,” a song which laid down a challenge he’d never taken up before: writing a sequel to one of his most beloved albums: All Hail West Texas. Recorded at Tulsa, Oklahoma’s legendary The Church Studio with Grammy-winning producer/engineer Trina Shoemaker, Jenny from Thebes is a lush collection of showtunes, pushing Darnielle as a vocalist and The Mountain Goats as a band, broadening their sonic palette once again by leaning into influences like Godspell, Jim Steinman, and The Cars.
Blending the worlds of fiction, poetry and songwriting, John Darnielle is that rare creative engine who sprouts more ideas and grows more intense the longer he runs. Leading the Mountain Goats since the mid-1990s, Darnielle has developed a second career as a much-praised novelist, adept at creating lasting characters like Jenny who first appeared in her titular track on the 2002 Mountain Goats album, All Hail West Texas. Here she’s been elevated to a figure from ancient mythology due to her penchant for caring for a house full of strangers looking to find themselves. Sadly, her charity has become a burden and made her, in Darnielle’s words, “someone on the verge of an unimaginable tragedy whose signs and portents will not make themselves known to her until she finds herself amidst the wreckage.” Eventually, Jenny cracks and flees. It’s a narrative you can follow or ignore because both music and lyrics are superb.
Produced by Trina Shoemaker, and tracked at The Church Studio in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the band once known for lo-fi recordings done on a boombox presents an elaborate production with admirably clear and logical sound. Vocals are pushed forward and horns are given a prominent place in the mix set to snappy, upbeat tempos, played to perfection by bandmates bassist Peter Hughes, multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas, and drummer Jon Wurster; the well-oiled machine is as nimble as their rare animal namesake.
The foursome rock out hard in “Murder at the 18th St. Garage.” “Only One Way” is the kind of hooky guitar pop that’s fast becoming extinct. Douglas’ saxophone and trombone by guest Evan Ringel add a happy edge and a triumphant turn to “Fresh Tattoo.” Set to a brisk rhythm, “Cleaning Crew” opens with the same descending chords as The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” but then turns funky thanks once again to horn snorts. Like most of the music here, it also contains Darnielle’s spry wordcraft: “I saw the future in an oil slick/ It told me what I needed to know/ Leave a little stain behind/ Everywhere you go.” Thirty years in, a compulsive creator outdoes himself. – Robert Baird
01. The Mountain Goats – Clean Slate (03:48)
02. The Mountain Goats – Ground Level (02:22)
03. The Mountain Goats – Only One Way (04:01)
04. The Mountain Goats – Fresh Tattoo (04:42)
05. The Mountain Goats – Cleaning Crew (03:36)
06. The Mountain Goats – Murder at the 18th St. Garage (02:52)
07. The Mountain Goats – From the Nebraska Plant (03:33)
08. The Mountain Goats – Same as Cash (03:44)
09. The Mountain Goats – Water Tower (02:27)
10. The Mountain Goats – Jenny III (02:26)
11. The Mountain Goats – Going to Dallas (02:02)
12. The Mountain Goats – Great Pirates (04:10)