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Firewater - Songs We Should Have Written

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Artist: Firewater

Album: Songs We Should Have Written

Label: Jetset

Review date: Mar. 1, 2004

When it laid down the debut, Get Off the Cross… We Need the Wood for the Fire, Firewater was, on paper, a gimmick: a noir-cabaret side-project for a batch of NYCensters squarely affiliated with other bands. Since then, it’s become a going concern, and its albums have grown at once heartier and less immediate. This covers platter is clearly the vacation Firewater needed. Here, they hang loose, have fun… and snarl and swing and pound like they haven’t since the Cross.

On “The Beat Goes On,” F-Water braintrust Tod Ashley and his recurring foil Jennifer Charles (of Elysian Fields and Lovage: Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By) hijack Sonny & Cher’s peppy finger-snapper and feed it shot after shot of something dark and sweet. It comes out 10 times more ominous and 20 times more pleasurable. Ditto the singalong spiritual “This Little Light of Mine,” which doesn’t seem to recall where it parked.

Generally, the more obvious the material (and it’s all fairly obvious – nothing Je Suis France would do), the more sideways the execution. Tom Waits’ “Diamonds and Gold” becomes a low-key industrial showtune somewhere in the South suburbs of the Chicago soundtrack. “Folsom Prison” turns its attention from the cell window to the shank fight across the hall. “Some Velvet Morning” groans like a hungover piñata, even with Luna’s Britta Phillips holding a wet rag to its forehead. And “Paint It, Black” doesn’t just slow down, it turns from neurosis to depression as it sees “the world go by dressed in some empty clothes.”

The lone disappointment? “Hey Bulldog,” a creepy little numeral from Yellow Submarine that sounded like Firewater when it was first released back in 1968. The cover is jovial filler unless you haven’t heard the original. The most pleasant surprise? Robyn Hitchcock’s “I Often Dream of Trains,” which retains its stateliness under Ashley’s bombastic two-pack-a-day holler.

Were I to get married, I might hire Firewater as a wedding band. Of course, there’s this amazing rockabilly Elvis tribute band in town that could probably use the scratch more.

By Emerson Dameron

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