Elvis Perkins has issues with names. As my brother mentioned at the opening of his review of Perkins’ Ash Wednesday, his own name isn’t an adopted moniker, like Elvis Costello, it’s his real name (his father, the actor Anthony Perkins, was a strident Elvis Presley fan). With his second album release, there’s an addendum to the name, with the “In Dearland” added in to represent the fact that this is a band effort rather than a solo affair. Finally, Perkins doesn’t like to be called a singer / songwriter, mostly due to the connotations that arise with the tag. Instead, he likes to be called a `recording artist.’ Yet despite all of these peculiarities in labels, Elvis Perkins delivers powerful performances with swagger, pathos and introspection no matter what one might happen to call it.
Those who have heard Ash Wednesday most likely are aware of its incredibly heartbreaking origins. Mid-September has got to be an incredibly difficult time for Perkins as he lost his father on the 12th of that month in 1992, then lost his mother in the 9/11 attacks some nine years later. Whereas Ash Wednesday is the somber funeral in which Perkins reflects on his loss, Elvis Perkins in Dearland is the boozy New Orleans wake, a celebration of life and all its mysteries. “Shampoo,” the rousing opener, seems a symbolic break from his previous album, not only in a more fervent sound, but also in metaphorical verbiage. “Sweep up, little sweeper boy,” Elvis sings, and later, in a possible symbolic nod to the clean up of past emotions, and later, “I don’t want to die, maybe tomorrow.” Though Perkins also channels Jeff Mangum in a series of near-nonsensical phrases with nods to classic folk songs with the lines, “Yellow is the color of my true love’s crossbow,” and “Black is the color of a strangled rainbow.”
Subsequent tracks throughout this self-titled `band debut’ celebrate the joys of ’60s folk as they recall the cadences of Bob Dylan (“Send My Regards to Lonelyville”), the drunken alley stumblings of Tom Waits (“I’ll Be Arriving”) and even the balance between tongue in cheek humor and reverence of the Smothers Brothers (“I Heard Your Voice in Dresden”). But again, the purpose of most of the songs here seem to lie in a newfound celebration of life, as can be found in the oom-pah of the New Orleans-flavored track, “Doomsday.” In it, Perkins echoes earlier sentiments such as, “Doomsday doesn’t bother me, does it bother you?” and “I don’t plan to die, nor should you plan to die.” It’s as equally heartbreaking as it is ebullient and rebellious. The same holds true for “1 2 3 Goodbye,” though the lyrics still exist somewhere between the free verse of Dylan and James Joyce, reminding me of the hilarious Dylan send-up “Royal Jelly,” from Walk Hard.
There are a few moments when Perkins slips into elegiac mournfulness, especially with the last Leonard Cohen-like track, “How’s Forever Been Baby,” yet one has to not only forgive this excursion, but also applaud it. Elvis Perkins’ strengths lie in his ability to explore the pains in life so elegantly, such as he did with Ash Wednesday. For the most part, however, Perkins also shows us he can party just as well as weep, and isn’t that exactly what life is all about? Over my years I’ve been to many different `fictional’ lands, including Lewis Carroll’s “Wonderland,” Walt Disney’s eponymous kingdom, and even accompanied his creation, Donald Duck, to “Mathmagicland.” I haven’t read Carroll since childhood, haven’t been to Disneyland in years, and the same goes for dear old Donald, but I imagine I’ll be taking several trips to Dearland.