David Childers & The Modern Don Juans – Jailhouse Religion

jailhousereligion Okay. David Childers and the Modern Don Juans. Never heard of them. Sounded interesting on BootLiquor.com.

The CD is called Jailhouse Religion. That’s kind of appealing. So I got hold of it – it’s brand new – and gave it a spin.

How to describe it?? Well, I can’t, really. It’s not that they are genre-defying, like The Gourds. It’s more like they fit so many genres.

The disc starts strong with No Pool Hall. I can only characterize that bass as throbbing. And the title track is cut from the same cloth. The bluesy fourth track, Bottom of my Bottle, takes it way down for the slow dancers. It sounds a little like The Paladins but with more of a country twang.

About half the songs are rockabilly. Not Brian Setzer rockabilly – more like Robert Gordon rockabilly. Or even The Tailgators. The real stuff. But then they have a little Mexican action going on “Roadside Parable” complete with some Tijuana Brass-sounding trumpet as well as a solid bluegrass song (“Chains of Sadness”) with some mandolin and banjo pickin’ and even some blues.

Somehow, this band manages to pull off every single song.

I gotta say, though: that 7th track is somewhat Spinal Tap-esque with its emphatic anthem-like guitar riffs and melodramatic heavy metal lyrics:   “A foul wind blows across this land / The final hours in the days of man.”

That sounds like something Nigel came up with and I can see David St. Hubbins congratulating himself for track title Danse Macabre. The “doo doo-doo-doo” part must have been Jeannine’s contribution.Could this be intentional? And I’m not slamming Childers or Spinal Tap. It’s a compliment. (Well, it is). Uh, see below for more on this.

This part is kind of silly in a different way – they have a song about George Wallace. Think about it. A song about George Wallace. What is that?? Who would write a song about George Wallace? Is it a song about political pragmatism? Is it a song about redemption? Can George Wallace even be redeemed? I don’t know.

And then there is The General Belgrano. I had to google it – it’s a song about an Argentine ship sunk by a British nuclear submarine during the 1982 Falklands War (yes, there really was a war over the Falkland Islands in 1982 and yes, the U.S. found a way to make it our business). A strange, if tragic, little episode in a strange little war. I gotta wonder why they’d write a song about it but I love the insistent drums and the faint submarine-like pinging in the background.

Down Below and Below The Limit sound like they are for real. Ballads and two of the best tracks on the disc. The harmonica on Over the Limit really hooks you.

David Childers and friendChilders wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the CD, sings lead vocals and plays guitar and harmonica. The Modern Don Juans include his brother Robert on drums, Mark Lynch on bass and vocals, and Randy Saxon on guitar, mandolin, banjo, and vocals. The CD also lists some Honorary Don Juans and a Juanita – Shawn Lynch (bass), Jake Berger (electric sitar which adds a psychedelic effect to Down Below), Charlie Lybrand (trumpet), and Jill Lurie (vocals).

Jailhouse Religion leaves me with a lot of questions – how much is serious and how much is tongue-in-cheek? These guys have been around a long time – according to his website, Childers had been playing in various musical incarnations since the 70s. Jailhouse Religion demonstrates that he is still experimenting with different musical styles. Maybe when you’ve been at something for over 30 years, you’ve earned the right to play around. And these guys seem to be plenty playful. But it’s a great disc and one I’ll be playing for a while.

Update (2/27/06):

Well, I was pretty much off base with my Spinal Tap analogy. Check out this music video of Danse Macabre by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Curtis Gaston. It gives a completely different impression of the song than the impression I had from merely listening to the CD and reading the lyrics. Aside from confirming that this band really rocks live, it delivers a message that is as far from Spinal Tap as one can get.

Although the title is admittedly melodramatic, the video, and the song, convey a powerful indictment of our violent society and, in particular, our nation’s warlike posturing in recent years. Interspersed with images of Hitler saluting are images of our nations’ leaders, the ones that have regrettably been so eager to take us to and keep us at war, in eerily similar postures. There are also arrays of coffins draped in American flags, images of modern-day terrorists, war scenes from today and from the second World War, and yes, scenes of our President golfing. The parallels drawn are frighteningly obvious.

Particularly powerful are the scenes with the GI Joe-like action figures staged in heavy warfare (I know it sounds silly but, trust me, it works). I don’t know if the GI Joes are intended to drive home the point that a powerful segment of our society actively markets war or if they were just convenient props but it works. And what will stay with you after the video ends is the final image of the war protesters at the end, holding up a sign with the beseeching words, "Lord Help Us."

Although Childers hedges a bit on how much of the message of the video is his and how much of it is Gaston’s, he admits that Gaston pretty much nailed the essence of it. And it just goes to show, don’t judge too much on first impressions. There is a lot of interesting stuff swirling around there in Childers’ head. And it comes out in some dang fine music.

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