This third album from the London based “folk, punk, ska and country” specialists, The Penny Black Remedy (TPBR from now on) dials down the feel good dance factor that has characterised their live shows and which featured on their two previous albums. Maintaining Dignity In Awkward Situations (MDIAS from now on although it’s doubtful I’ll have recourse to mentioning the title again) instead hones in on the vocal partnership of Keith M Thomson and Marijana Hajdarhodzic with some of the album reminding one of The Handsome Family or, more particularly, the much missed Blanche.
Sure enough there’s a touch of ska on the jaunty Trying To Be A Slightly Better Person while the weighty call and response song, You Should Have Left Your Money At Home, is reminiscent of some cuts from earlier albums with its skirling fiddle reminding one that the band has Balkan roots in its veins. However, it’s to the darker side of Americana that the band hover about on the reverbed rockout that is This Car Is Gonna Crash while Crawling My Way Out is an Everly’s harmony song given a skiffle arrangement. The opening song, I’d Murder To Have You Back, kicks off with a sweet country fiddle before the pair duet finely with a deliciously wicked list of cruel and unusual punishments they’ve wished on each other. Signs Of Weakness meanwhile rides the rails as Hajdarhodzic raises the drawbridge to her heart singing, “It’s been closed to all the bastards,” the song a stirring concoction of twanging guitars and devilish fiddle playing.
Their dark side is accentuated by Thomson’s lyrics which are sardonic, plumbing the depths of despair with a wonderfully offhand nonchalance. His “celebration” of the generally accepted lifespan on Seventy Years just about boils down to his declaration that you have “Seventy years to just say, fuck it,” delivered like an updated Woody Guthrie number. It’s Dark Outside takes his macabre side to the extreme as he and Hajdarhodzic duet like a paranoid version of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, afraid to step outside as they run though a list of serial killers they presume are waiting in the bushes. It’s a deliciously dark song and open to interpretation, one’s not sure if they are partners or capturer and victim, nor who is who, is it a Stockholm syndrome version of a cellar prison? Who knows, but it’s a grand listen. The paranoia runs riot on the closing, and otherwise tender, ballad, Is It Safe To Say Goodnight? Urban OCD set to music.