The Palace Guards
[Rating: 3.5 stars]
In his charmingly frank liner notes, David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker) points out that, though this is his first solo record, it is actually a collaboration between himself and his long-time pals at Virginia’s Sound of Music recording studio. Recordingwise, this may be true, but the songs are pure Lowery all the way: droning violins, drawled song-spiel singing, and lyrics that pierce the heart while revealing a slacker’s wit.
Lowery claims that the lo-fi, herky-jerky acoustic title ballad is the best track here, and it certainly is interesting (bearing a passing resemblance to Ween’s early four-track efforts), but his craft is on better display elsewhere. “I Sold the Arabs the Moon” features some of Lowery’s best singing, an assured melody, and a graceful lyrical hand; the song, inspired by a trip to Iraq, condenses a millennium of world history and power brokerage into four minutes of waltzing loveliness. “Baby, All Those Girls Meant Nothing To Me,” a tongue-in-cheek bad-boy plea, pairs a heady, off-kilter arrangement (reminiscent of a CvB track) with a no-frills classic rock chorus. The gentle, glistening country-rocker “Marigold” is a surreal travelogue reportedly sprung directly from a dream. The stunner here is “Deep Oblivion,” a sad, swirling, psychedelic tale for which the singer provides a low-key, low-register vocal that may remind listeners of Beck or Dean Wareham. The album closes on a sweet note with an amiable country shuffle dedicated to Lowery’s wife (band manager Velena Vego).
Though nothing here (not even the one cover, Dutch band Mint’s “Ah, You Left Me”) wanders far from the work he has done with Cracker or Camper, this intimate album is a welcome addition to the Lowery catalog.