I shuffle down to Shake It Records for an in-store appearance of The Chocolate Horse (TCH) and to pick up a copy of their newest fullie, Beast. I had been waiting for this one since the last one came out. I just can’t get enough of TCH. I hunger for their eclectic audious spreadings. Each of their releases have yet to wear down my interest. Their past efforts, Patience Works (2007) and We Don’t Stand On Ceremony (2010) are still as fresh now, as they were the, when originally released.
Longtime compatriot, and photographer extraordinaire, Dave "Wickey" Fitzwell, and I arrive at Shake It Records lately. Damn that Darou Salam and their window of bulk rice bags, their wall of bootleg African DVD’s and their re-imported bottles of corporate soda (small bottles of coke-a-cola exported to Africa, then brought back into the country and sold at their store). It’s all Darou Salams fault! If they weren’t so interesting… As we walk in TCH are ending a rather spiriting performance of a personal favorite of mine, "Caribbean".
It sounded amazing! It had been a while since I seen TCH, true. I knew that sometime in the past, Johnny Ruza had been made a permanmemt fixture of TCH with his alto flute, and I realize that one of the original three, the ever busy and active Andrew Higley would become more of a rotative figure... I also realized that on the previous two releases and during live shows Jason Snell and Paul Brum have called on various local artist and their abilities to put forth TCH as a unit. Nothing wrong with any of that either. When you seen TCH on a flyer, they were sure to please... So walking in during "Caribbean" I was instantly captivated by the line-up that, after getting a couple songs deeper into their showing, were just downright rocking the mother-fucking district.
I would later discover on the sleeve of Beast that Joe Suer, who was situated with a keyboard to his right and to his front a vibraphone that he masterfully piloted, as well as Dave Cahill, who was no stranger to TCH himself and situated behind a full drum set were now regulars. Jason, Paul (who was wielding a standard bass with masterful precision) and Mr. Ruza along with Joe and Cahill definitely had something going on!
|By Dave Fitzwell|
|By Dave Fitzwel |
"Caribbean" kicked, and it was no fluke. Other TCH staples like "Whiskey Won" and "Thick Orange Piping" never sounded better and accented newer material like set stand-outs and Beast heavies "Make It Up Tonight" and "Fools Gold."
Andrew Jody ask me if I think its OK if he opened a beer that he back-packed in. A stow-a-way... "Only if I get the first swig" I say. He obliges. The Chocolate Horse is raging. Giving a soundtrack to little acts of sabotage. Another beer would follow Andy's first beer.
It had been too long since I seen TCH! I had missed a lot. They proved this with every song played. I was so embarrassed that when called out from their positions, I claimed to be a clone of myself. I hid behind the safety of a lie. I had a strong fear that I had wasted too much time observing Darou Salams shelves full of ill-stocked merchandise of upside down, backwards and otherwise topsy turvey methods of display. As TCH played on, proving to me that I must pay closer attention to this band, I would surmise that I seen the larger share of the songs that they performed.
I did not deserve such a vigorous and well-played set of precision song excellence, but TCH as always, delivered...
As I would purchase my plate-thick absinthe colored vinyl copy of Beast and add it to my own personal collection, in more ways than one... Once again, on their third fullie to date, TCH would deliver!
They always deliver…
On Beast, as I am also seeing from other bands and their tertiary, releases (gasp! A trend?) TCH are solidifying their sound. Tightening up. Defining the edges. Calling out the reserves... By no means taking a step back, but none-the-less leaping forward.
I hear none of the signature drum machine that really gave TCH distinction. I hear less horn also but with Cahill and Ruza, and what they bring forth with Joe, the older TCH stuff still sounds amazing (different, but amazing) and these newer sounds and the songs take on a whole different, urgency.
I read in a review of Beast, a press release regurgitation piece, that TCH had been birthed from the functionality of Jason and quick little love songs...Yeah, well, that may have been so, and nothings wrong with that. Love is a passion. Love is romantic. Passion is emotion. Romance is too. Both are not necessarily limited to what common definitions limit them to. Passion, Love and even Romance all can be different things that resemble each other. But in its rawest form all three can also be each other’s direct opposite. Resentment, disgust and hate...
Beast shows an enthusiasm and darkness that really defines a new beginning. Songs like "Lasso Lasso", "The Sahara" and "Characters of Egypt" create an atmosphere with their delivery. They are mature songs with a mature sound. The bridge you just crossed just blew up. That’s ok though because that bridge outlived its usefulness. If you need to go back, you can ride a felucca.
It’s not about going back; it’s all about moving forward. On '"Escape All Responsibility" you hear the serious brow furling overtones that set TCH's spot firmly in a position of firmness. You’re either with them, or you’re against them. Time for play is over, its time to play.
That’s why this fullie is full of ultra-mega-beauty. It’s biting; it’s a bit mean. That’s good! Beast is a punch to the gut. Your left surprised thinking "I didn’t know they had it in them" and there’s more...
The journey continues with "Make It Up Tonight" and the experience of the frailness and ability to just allow the total collapse is solidified with "Terrible Lies" and "Drive Your Stake".
Beast has darkness, a realness that I welcome. It’s a walk through the busiest shopping mall you can find and catching glimpses of black eyes and cut lips and bloody knuckles on the surrounding crowd. That could be you that will be you. Your turn is coming up. Every wound has a story behind it and every song does too.
Beast, breaking from the softer color schemes of their previous efforts is TCH's stance is a document of continued defiance that you can dance to. Beast brings out calks forth the mischievous nature in us all. Beast is that kind of soundtrack. Song after song of examples that things don’t have to be the same, they don’t have to fit the mold to still deliver.
Beast is a great record from a truly great band. It continues the already amazing run that TCH has had. There’s something about them that really clicks with me. Each record is better than the next one that I’m already waiting for.
On the way from the TCH In-store, at a inconvenient convenience store just down the street that had just shut down for the day, there was a display sign, about 3 feet square advertising Faygo
“It’s been years since I’ve seen a bottle of Faygo, much less an advertisement” said Wickey, and he was right. I thought back as far as I could and I went back to my pre-teen years and my Grandparents refrigerator.
“That just goes to show you how desperate times are getting” I said.
* * *Here is one of the very first videos I ever shot and edited all by my lonesome using software I still have a fragile understanding of using... From 2007, just as "Patience Works" was debuting and Johnny Ruza was finding his spot with the band. The dancer at the end is a hero of mine, a drifter that claimed to know a guy named 'Jethro Tull' who had this band...