April 16, 2015 10,000 Maniacs – Twice Told Tales (Album Review)
Formed in 1981 in Jamestown, New York, 10,000 Maniacs has had various lineups, which included the original lead vocalist Natalie Merchant, who left the group in 1993 to pursue a solo career. Currently, the band consists of Dennis Drew (keyboards/backing vocals), Steve Gustafson (bass/ backing vocals), Jerry Augustyniak (drums/backing vocals), Mary Ramsey (lead vocals/viola/violin), Jeff Erickson (guitar/vocals), and returning original member John Lombardo (guitar/vocals). Consistently active through the years, 10,000 Maniacs has released nine studio albums, from 1983’s Secrets of the I Ching to the forthcoming Twice Told Tales due out April 28th via Cleopatra Records.
Those who are familiar with 10,000 Maniacs because of songs like “What’s the Matter Here?,” “Hey, Jack Kerouac,” “Like the Weather,” “Eat for Two,” “Trouble Me,” “These Are Days,” “Rainy Day,” and a cover of the Roxy Music classic “More than This” and Patti Smith’s “Because the Night”—all of which are oozing with New Wave and Pop sensibilities—might be in for a surprise with the band’s latest offering. Whereas many of the band’s previous albums had strong commercially oriented songs, Twice Told Tales seemed to be a deliberate digging into the group’s primitive roots. It may even be regarded as a concept album founded on Irish/Celtic Folk sound that features lyrical references to Irish mythology and Scottish folktales. Those more well-versed on the band will know that even in the beginning and on their subsequent albums, the music of 10,000 Maniacs has always been rooted in Folk. The incorporation of violin, viola, mandolin, choral strings, and occasional piano seems a prerequisite. The rhythm guitar is often brightly jangly; the lead, arpeggiated; and the trebly bass, constantly moving. Layers of percussive instruments frequently augment the full sound of the drums, and the expression of the vocals is more of yearning and wishful thinking than of angst and whining.
Twice Told Tales opens with a violin instrumental, entitled “Lady Mary Ramsey I.” Interesting named after the band’s vocalist, the story goes she was searching her name one day and came across the age-old piece by luck. An a cappella piece, “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” follows it. (Aengus is a god of love and youth in Irish mythology.) Anyone familiar with the discography of Dead Can Dance might associate this haunting piece with the English-Australian band’s version of “I Am Stretched on Your Grave,” which was actually a translation of an old Irish poem first set to recorded music in 1979 by the Irish musician Philip King with his band Scullion. So, there is still the Irish connection. The mood then slowly builds up into familiar upbeat 10,000 Maniacs territory, but with touches of Celtic music—“She Moved through the Fair,” “Dark Eyed Sailor,” “Misty Moisty Morning,” the pennywhistle-led “Bonny May;” which may remind the listener of the English Indie/New Wave band Lick the Tins, “Canadee-I-O,” and the 6/8 ballad “Do You Love an Apple?” The latter part of the album is comprised by slower ballads: “Greenwood Sidey,” short and monorhythmic; “Carrickfergus,” a Country-tinged ode to a Northern Ireland town of the same name; the elegy “Death of Queen Jane;” and “Wild Mountain Thyme,” a Folk song of Irish and Scottish origin. Before the album finally concludes, the listener is treated to the jolly and celebratory stomper “Marie’s Wedding.” Aptly, the album wraps up with a reprise of the introductory track, “Lady Mary Ramsey II.”
Overall, Twice Told Tales is a beautiful collection of original and reworked Folk songs and tunes that can take the attentive and introspective listener to a rustic journey filled with European tales and stories set to contemporary Folk music. Many of these songs are over three hundred years old and 10,000 Maniacs do a magnificent job of keeping their tradition and alluring sound alive. CrypticRock gives Twice Told Tales 4 out of 5 stars.