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With 70 some odd years spent fleshing out the concept of country music, it is darn near impossible to put out a country music project, let alone a neo-traditional one that thrives on going back instead of forward, that is able to find a truly original approach. But Some Velvet Evening, with their use of subtly, sarcasm, and sexual innuendo without sacrificing substance does that very thing.
Some Velvet Evening is the sound of sexual frustration. I’ve been saying that the permeation of irony in modern American culture has killed camp, but No Law Against Talking is a booster shot right in camp’s buttocks. By taking country’s conservative, family-friendly foundations and turning them inside out, yet still staying completely within the confines of them, the duo of Carrie Shepard and John Holk engage you with a mad, sick, but still sweet and simple paradox of sensations and thoughts. Some Velvet Evening splits the creative atom. When you listen to their songs, you are in two places at once, listening with two completely different perspectives that are at war, but at the same time harmonious. It is music parallax.
Their commitment to their sexually subtle songs is deep. If they used this formula just for one or two of the songs, those songs might have been good, but the album concept may have fallen apart. Make no mistake, this approach is a bit, but it is a good bit, executed well, and neither over nor under done. Though not all of the songs employ this bit, they all work within the general framework and theme of the album.
The first two tracks “Shooting The Breeze” and “Ain’t No Law Against Talking” start you down the path of innuendo, but then “Still Have Your Hat” is a rather sweet and straightforward country song, only to lead into the suggestive “Behind The Line”. So much of this album’s effectiveness depends on the song order, and though there are stronger and weaker tracks (as with all albums), the order of this album’s songs is a practice in genius all to itself.
After listening a couple of times through, I had determined it was worthy of a positive grade, but I was going to preface it with a warning that this album is not one you listen to over an over, it’s more like a piece of fine art, where you appreciate the technique and perspective they used and move on because there’s no deep visceral appeal that makes you crave the music in the long term. But I’ll be damned if after listening to this album for a while, the songs really stuck to my bones. Despite the ‘bit”, there is real substance to the music, singing, and lyrics here.
The Louvin-style close harmony approach, supported by excellent ear and arrangement really make the singing of Some Velvet Evening something special. Carrie Shepard has spectacular tone and control to match the natural sweetness of her voice, and John Holk’s soft and smart accompaniments and leads compliment Carrie, along with the sweet nature of the words and themes of the songs. The mastery of the subtlety in the music is what grabs your attention first, but then the singing and songwriting rallies to reveal their music as something to be taken very seriously. The instrumentation is also solid, and appropriate to the “golden age of the Opry” period the music is set in.
The liner notes for this album are sparse, and the internet is no help either. There is a lot of mystery to this album and Some Velvet Evening, and I’d like to keep it that way. I don’t want to know if Carrie and John are an item, or if they’re theater nerds and this is an extension of that world. I just know that they touched on something in No Law Against Talking, and that same “something” is captured just as well in their video for “Shooting The Breeze” (see below).
However, this is one of those albums that the warning needs to be issued that it is not for everyone. Not only will some not get it, some will be vaguely insulted by it. Sarcasm and subtly is for old souls. But on the flip side, the vagaries in which this music works means you could play it for your 80-year-old grandmother or 6-year-old daughter, and they might love it. This really is an artsy fartsy-feeling project, but I beg you, don’t overlook the substance.
As for a grade, give it 1 3/4 of a possible 2 guns up, only held back by a couple of slightly weaker songs, and the great likelihood for misunderstanding of this project.
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