The seafaring selection, Moby Dick; Or, The Album, has been a long time in coming to anyone the least bit acquainted with the L.A.-based alt-country act. Juli Crockett (guitar/vocals/songwriting) confesses Herman Melville’s classic has always been an “obsessive literary love.” In fact, a few years ago at a live gig at Rhino Records in Claremont, California she jokingly voiced concern that she wrote too many songs inspired by Moby Dick. The Evangenitals’ latest release proves that Crockett and company got over that little issue.
The group’s current lineup consists of songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Juli Crockett, co-founder and gospel/jazz singer Lisa Dee, keyboardist Michael Feldman, bassist Joey Maramba, violinist Andrea Baker, mandolinist Daniel Mark, violinist and effects man Danny Graziani, and rotating drummers George Bernardo (Cash’d Out), princess Frank (Killsonic), David Hurlin (Apocalypso Tantric Boys Choir) and Robert Shaffer (Ninja Academy). On this, their debut disc with Fluff & Gravy Records, they are backed by an assortment of other artists including: folk artist Jim Kweskin (of Jug Band fame) on banjo and vocals, avant-garde performer Dorian Wood on vocals, Alien D. Glass II on national guitar, composer Jeremy Zuckerman (“Avatar: The Last Airbender” and recent number one iTunes Soundtrack “Legend of Korra”) on guitar, Kris Tiner (Empty Cage Quartet) on cornet and bassist Edwin Livingston (Natalie Cole).
Moby Dick; Or, The Album includes seven cuts. It is a musical mash-up of songs largely inspired Melville’s masterpiece and includes ingredients of numerous different musical genres including but not limited to: Americana and country, folk, hillbilly, jazz and new wave. Crockett elaborates on the connection forged in this melding of hooks and books:
“Moby Dick is one of those iconic texts that has a life beyond its pages. People who have never read the book still have an understanding of its themes and its characters. (C)haracters like Captain Ahab and the White Whale transcend literature and enter the realm of the symbolic.”
Crockett concludes: “Great works of art aren’t satisfied with being passively received; we are meant to engage, challenge, and play with them. The greatness of great literature is in its ability to respond with resiliency to the times, over ages and eons. Without changing a word, they somehow manage to consistently change our lives.”
The album opens on “Ahab’s Leg.” It’s an interesting intro to this thematic work and an early favorite of online critics. The second selection is “The Sermon”. This is a short seaside mayhap shipboard revival that leaves some wanting more as it too is an early online favorite. Both are Crockett compositions.
“Shipwreck Blues” is the only track to which Crockett did not actually lend her writing talents to although the band performs it so well listeners believe it belongs here anyway. This song actually goes back to at least 1931 and was written by Bessie Smith. The Evangenitals make it sound much older turning into appropriately overcast piece with nautical mental images and ethereal vocals.
"Turbulent Flow” follows. Initially it almost sounds like a video game-turned foreign TV commercial. Still, it’s refreshing and original. It’s also a fine example of what the writing team of Crockett, Feldman and Maramba can do.
"Moby Dick”, the titular track, is also a fun number. It’s a songstory with a CliffsNotes chorus that’s gotta be great live. Let the harpoons fly? No let loose the strings! This is one of the best cuts on the album was co-written with Ron McElderry.
“The Lee Shore” comes in next with a natural musical flow all its own and yet it certainly works well enough with the Evangenitals eclectic often mercurial signature sound. Perhaps what’s most interesting here is that the song reveals something about Crockett and the song writing process she oft’times employs: “A song can start with a teeny, tiny feeling and then explode into some epic monument. I love that. Our longest song is based on one of the shortest chapters of Moby Dick (Chapter 23: The Lee Shore).”
She adds: “(This song) is one of my favorites. It is so epic and complex and perfect in its own weird way that even though I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I wrote it, it feels so much bigger than me. I’m really proud of that song, and the whole chain of life that brought it into being."
The closing cut is “Quee Queg.” This is another atmospheric, character composition. It does the trick as an album end-note and was co-written with Gordon Torncello. Overall, this contains some of the best work the band has ever done. (Hey, it even has a very brief hidden track that’s fun and fluff and harkens back to the day when everyone was doing it.) So check out The Evangenitals’ Moby Dick; Or, The Album and go with the “Turbulent Flow”.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.