Taking its title from the archetypal monster of American literature and imagery, ‘Just Like Moby Dick’, is Texan songwriter and visual artist, Terry Allen’s first set of brand-new songs since his 2013 album, ‘Bottom of the World’. Casting the net across a range of subjects from abandonment, disaster, war, existential crisis – even a vampire infested circus – a common theme of heartbreak and humour appears through a seamlessly executed album. Joined by the full Panhandle Mystery Band, including co-producer Charlie Sexton (Dylan, Bowie, Blaze), as well as his sons Bukka and Bale Allen.
Allen’s lyrical twist of heartbreak and humour commence graveside with “Houdini didn’t like the spiritualists, he couldn’t believe there’s any truth to this, that a loved one might return and speak to you, even though he wanted it to be true”. The cold-blooded nature of the songs are continually propped up with a dose of humour, relieving its heaviness yet still carrying the same authority that Tom Waits or John Prine would.
A further example would be ‘Abandonitis’, “It’s abandonitis not appendicitis, oh the doctor can’t cut it away, you can’t operate on your own fate, abandonitis don’t cut it that way”. The format of the lyrics and music exemplify the attention to detail across the album, ensuring that the music always plays as a perfect backdrop to the subject and on this occasion, giving us the sense of a showdown with those feelings of abandonment which its refined use of tension builds.
On to ‘Death of the Last Stripper’, Allen’s voice conducts the solemnness of the story with conviction and the song as a whole further exemplifies the awareness paid by the Panhandle Mystery Band. The album goes on to present us with quite a tangent, with the song ‘Pirate Jenny’ playing more like a musical, underpinning the narrative, chopping the time signature and tempo and leaving the solo section to cast a composition rather than a song. Again, Allen sits on the humour but this time using the sweet jovial music as comedic value to Jenny’s wrongdoings, with the creaking of the chair sounding like a wooden boat exhaling under the tension of the waves.
Leading us on with the three-part satirical protest of ‘American Childhood’, we view Allen’s upbringing in the shadow of cold war atomic terror: “It’s just the war, same fucking war, it’s always been, never ends”. Avoiding being overly literal, the trilogy campaigns on being genuinely scornful until we meet ‘City of the Vampires’, reinventing the classic murder ballad, taking an eerie turn on blood thirsty subject matter.
The album ‘Just Like Moby Dick’ will be available from January 24th 2020 on Allen’s very own Paradise of Bachelors label which, coincidentally or not, also takes its name from a Herman Melville story.