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R.B. Reed: Not Your Average John

Posted by September 4th, 2007 No Comments »

thumb_rbreedR.B. Reed
Outsider Ballads
Beep Repaired Records

“Today’s sweet embrace is tomorrow’s
strangle hold.”
—R.B. Reed

R.B.
Reed’s Outsider Ballads is the
perfect soundtrack to the 1955 film The
Night of the Hunter
: stark, creepy, beautiful, and existential.

Reed is a
singer/songwriter, but don’t misinterpret him as some neo-hippie in a coffee
shop whose rants are backed by three chords and the truth.

Instead, we
hear a rich baritone crooning about murder and love. In other words, the songs
on this album reveal an attractive voice singing about ugly topics.

R.B. Reed
Outsider Ballads
Beep Repaired Records


rbreed2“Today’s sweet embrace is tomorrow’s
strangle hold.”
—R.B. Reed

R.B.
Reed’s Outsider Ballads is the
perfect soundtrack to the 1955 film The
Night of the Hunter
: stark, creepy, beautiful, and existential.

Reed is a
singer/songwriter, but don’t misinterpret him as some neo-hippie in a coffee
shop whose rants are backed by three chords and the truth.

Instead, we
hear a rich baritone crooning about murder and love. In other words, the songs
on this album reveal an attractive voice singing about ugly topics.

Outsider Ballads was recorded in a day, with Beep
Repaired founding father Olie Eshleman at the helm, twiddling the knobs and
adjusting the microphones. The CD sounds very personal and live. It’s like
sitting in someone’s attic and listening to your favorite record. There’s a warmth and intimacy that usually
gets lost on record.

The
strongest cut is “Not Your Average John.” Taken from the pages of true crime,
it relays the double life of a door-to-door salesman who kills prostitutes in
his off time. Reed’s vocals go from
murmur to wail, climaxing just before he sings about the final killing. “Left
hand wears a wedding band/But the right holds a kitchen knife/He’s going to
steal your life from you.” The killer’s
final victim is his own suspecting wife.
As far as murder ballads go, “Average John” is just as terrifying as the
traditional “Stagger Lee.”

rbreed3In fact,
some of these lyrics scare the bejeezus outta me; others are more humorous and
clever. Take the final track, “Black,” on which R. B. compares all the types of
people who wear black clothing: rock and roll legends, Satanists, FBI agents, goth kids, and Dungeons and Dragons gamers are equal fodder. In one example, the description of goth music
as “the soundtrack to the mating dance of vampire bats” makes me howl. And in the case of the D&D gamers, Reed
bemoans that his favorite color is ruined by these trench-coat-wearing, 20-sided-die-rolling nerds.

Through his
humor, Reed makes the darker, morose lyrics more palpable and, in some cases,
more poignant. In “Taxidermied Love,” the imagery of the singer being stuffed
with treated cotton and kept by his ex-lover is both macabre and absurd. These
lyrics tell the whole story: “I could
have been your only pet/If I survived the vivisect/For me at least you chose
the most flattering pose/To seal our taxidermied love.”

This
is an intelligent record, one on which R.B. Reed executes gloomy lyrics with
entertaining rhymes and imagery. And
this juxtaposition hits the listener like a dry whiskey in a broken glass, in
the parlance of Philip Marlowe. Outsider
Ballads
bridges the gap between the pulp fiction of Raymond Chandler and
the acoustic goth of Leonard Cohen. – (8.5/10)

 

R.B Reed plays the Rendezvous in Seattle on September 7, treks down to Portland for a show at Valentines on September 9, and then returns home for a show at the Mars Bar on September 20.

 

 


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