CHARLEMAGNE – Detour Allure
(2005 SideCho Records)
Charlemagne’s Detour Allure finds our heroes outgrowing some of the down-home Americana charm of their debut record and replacing it with some serious big-city-style polish. No, they haven’t left town. At least not yet. But their first release for California-based label SideCho Records has me worried they might. It’s the kind of record that deserves to get noticed outside Madison. The slick production by band members Carl Johns (a.k.a. Charlemagne) and Curtis Whaley (“The Arty Bastard”) suggests they are a formidable team, and I would like to see them work with other artists. Whaley also lent his graphic art skills to the project, putting together a visually impressive package for the release.
“(We Are) Making Light” marks new stylistic ground for Charlemagne. Making good use of keyboardist Whaley’s trippier inclinations and featuring Johns’ most affected vocals yet, the charm is in the intriguing instrumentation and not the simple rhyme lyrics (“Come over here / And bring me a beer”), which are more stream-of-consciousness than genius. Considering Johns’ talent as a lyricist, it’s surprising how deceptively prosaic some of the tracks are; “Tell Me” consists of one line, “Tell me what you want,” repeated multiple times over a veritable party of handclaps and percussion. Tellingly, I had listened to the disc a dozen times before I even noticed this fact. “Fave Unknown” channels a Brian Wilson jones I never would have, (but probably should have) guessed that Johns had. The jaunty tambourine, well-placed backing vocals and yes, the omnipresent handclaps (attributed to no fewer than three band members) of that track are inescapable throughout, making the whole disc a bouncy delight.
In support of equal opportunity, back-up singers Kaleen Enke (“Katydid”) and Tenaya Darlington (“Ladybird”) each take a turn on lead vocals. Darlington’s track, the psychedelic mushroom “Nematode,” takes its lyrics from her poem “On Not Wanting a Child.” Taking that title into consideration certainly sheds a revealing light on lines like “Every parent is an elongated infant / But not all of us need to replicate desire / Or even take pleasure in order to feel / That we have left our manifest, yes, on earth.” Enke’s understated turn on “I Heard Something” doesn’t require the same amount of dissection, instead dealing with the more common theme of defending her man and their relationship from the lies of another. Both tracks were also featured on the first installment of the My Sweet Pony EP trilogy which led up to the release of this full-length.
The disc is filled out with other ear-candy like the sugary confection “Pink and Silver,” full of blissful nonsense like “Chocolate-covered cherries / Scary, scary berries,” a head nodder and butt shaker all the same. Opening track “Greyhound,” which contains the titular line “So you weep to keep pure / When it gets tough, detour allure,” and the irresistible “Your Scars” may be the strongest tracks simply because they feature Johns’ voice most prominently. Despite all the sparkle and shine, that will always be Charlemagne’s best, and ultimately most distinguishing, feature.