If the HBO show Carnivàle were set in the present day, and in Russia, rather than in America between the two World Wars, the music of Boston’s Reverend Glasseye might fit the bill. Mixing music from the early days of radio, more recent music dramatists such as Nick Cave and Tom Waits, also a touch of gypsy and klezmer music, Adam Glasseye and his cabaret pals bring all this insanity to life. Our Lady of the Broken Spine is the band’s second full-length release, four years in the waiting. Even though the band is made up of `yankees,’ they pull off the Southern Gothic feel well, blending metropolitan cabaret theatrics with dark forest backgrounds and lyrics straight out of Poe or Flannery O’Connor.
One look at the cover of Our Lady of the Broken Spine should give you your first guidepost as to forming your opinions about Reverend Glasseye. A Munchian figure lies twisted and sprawled on the bleak forest floor, surrounded by leafless trees, an Edward Gorey figure waiting for a caption. It is yet again another combination of the urban and the rural, bridging the gaps between highbrow and lowbrow art. The songs within are much the same. There is really not one genre into which Reverend Glasseye (and his Wooden Legs, his first album added) easily fits. “King of Men” has a driving rhythmic drum march akin to Ravel’s “Bolero” while its follower “Oh Lord, Why Have You Been So Cruel To Me?” sounds like what you might expect if you heard Bauhaus doing alt-country.
Glasseye’s lyrics are like Melville writing Dickens, children born to bad circumstances, yet rising up to exact their revenge as in “The Cold House Hymns.” In a way, Our Lady of the Broken Spine is like a Dostoevsky meets Kafka by way of Tim Burton version of Black Sheep Boy, as is evidenced in “God Help You Dumb Boy”:
“Dumb Boy of what are you made?
My eyes are lazy, my skin doth flake.
What good can you do?
Not so much as men like you.
Dumb Boy what do you see?
Lesser men coming down on me.
Tell us, what will you do?
I will let me axe come down on you.”
Like the dark and foreboding parallel universe of the Decemberists, Reverend Glasseye revels in the forbidden back streets of the `good old days.’ Literary short stories make up the lyrics of the Boston band, the city that Sir Ian Faith, Spinal Tap’s manager, famously described as `not a college town.’ Glasseye is Tom Waits and Nick Cave, beset upon by Russian gypsy vampires, drunk on Stolichnaya, and sitting in with Dixieland horns. The beauty comes in its opposites, those mentioned above, the difference between Cold War era America and Russia, and class distinction. It’s not so often that you get to see Pip rise up against his tormentors like Ahab, all while jig dancing to the sound of a vibraphone.