As more families are forced to flea war and climate change worldwide it seems fitting that The Mountain Goats revisit one their most popular characters, Jenny, who offers sanctuary to people in need at her ‘ranch style house’ in Texas.
She first appeared on All Hail West Texas and has since been mentioned on Jam Eater Blues’ Straight Six, and Night Light on Transcendental Youth.
But while All Hail West Texas, which is so beloved by The Mountain Goats fans, was recorded via frontman and song writer John Darnielle on his Panasonic boombox, here Jenny gets more modern treatment from the full band, which is now a tight-as-you-like four piece selling out auditoriums across the US.
That means the production is bigger and slicker but that same wonderful story telling style of Darnielle remains.
As the press release explains: “Jenny from Thebes is the story of Jenny, her southwestern ranch style house, the people for whom that house is a place of safety, and the west Texas town that is uncomfortable with its existence.
“It is a story about the individual and society, about safety and shelter and those who choose to provide care when nobody else will.”
There’s a different feel to the album than their last collection, Bleed Out, a rockin’ rollercoaster of a tribute to action films from the 1970s and 1980s.
The tone here is melancholier, thanks in part to the woodwind of the band’s multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas.
Opener Clean Slate sets the tone nicely, especially with a lovely subtle piano melody augmented by strings and horns.
The keys on Ground Level are a lovely addition. And best of all is that there’s a reference to ‘colour on your cheeks’ on Fresh Tattoo, to echo the call for those in need to come in out of the cold on All Hail West Texas. For me this wonderful track is the centrepiece of the album. As Jenny says “I think I’m going to take you in” to another traveller in need she meets.
There’s still some rockin’ rollercoastering, particularly on single Murder at the 18th St. Garage, which could have easily slotted onto Bleed Out.
Jenny III is another high point, paying tribute to the band’s sanctuary offering muse. Her role in society summed up beautifully with the line about “all the secrets she held back behind the curtain”.
It’s an album of remarkable consistency and loving production across its dozen tracks, as Mountain Goats fans have come to expect over the years. All kindness no filler.
By Joe Lepper