Review by Julia Massey
It would be valid to write a glowing review of Cobain and Cornbread that focuses on the historicity of the record; how it is educating folks about the current state of racial affairs in this city (and country). It would be equally legitimate to write a review that focuses on how this album is creating a new musical milestone for the Pacific Northwest by ushering in a modern break from the “grunge” assumption that the rest of the world has about this area.
Kurt Cobain’s influence will always pervade, but now we are beginning to see how future bands will be able to say they have been influenced by The Black Tones. I hope someone writes more about that in the near future.
Today, I’d like to focus on a review of the actual musicality of Cobain and Cornbread. The entire album, recorded by Jack Endino (and Mason Lowe on “Chubby Tubby” and “Mr. Pink”), lacks nothing. From the first hits of “Ghetto Spaceship” to the final seconds, nothing is wasted, and everything is vital.
The second track, “The Key of Black (They Want Us Dead)” which is typically performed by most of Eva Walker’s immediate family, has a groove that inserts itself into your DNA. The andante pace of the tune forces itself into your daily routine. Coupled with Cedric Walker’s cymbal heavy beat, the lyrics of the song are easily communicated with a kind of demand from which you cannot turn away. The guitar solo midway through the song appears effortless, singing with a voice that is both loving and determined.
Almost as a response to the seriousness of “Key of Black,” the third track, “Mama! There’s a Spider in My Room!” puts the Walker twins’ (yes, they are really twins) powers of charm at the forefront. The conversation between little Eva’s childhood fear and the object of them is conveyed perfectly with her signature tail-end vibrato during the choruses. Do I hear Billie Holiday? Maybe. How about Aretha? Maybe some Freddie Mercury? All of the above, except that no one can sing like this person. The large gaps in the lyrics add to the phenomenal dynamics of this song. Indeed, my son and I jam to it every single day.
Then there’s “Rivers of Jordan”: a spiritual that the Walkers perform with a harmonica and hand percussion. The melody and form are as timeless and timely as other standards that were written long ago. By placing this in the middle of their record, and observing how they all work together, the listener is reminded that this entire collection of songs, from the eerie “Striped Walls” to the bubbly “Chubby Tubby,” is equally timeless and timely.
As a friend and fan of the band, I was concerned about the high expectations surrounding this record’s release. The live performances of this music are unbelievably charismatic, and I was worried about the difficulty in capturing such dynamism and strength on a record. But with Cobain and Cornbread, The Black Tones have proved once again that there is no turning on or turning off their magnetism, and we are all very lucky to be in their orbit.