Album Review: Eugene Kelley – Las Animas

This CD came our way when someone left it in the Little Village distribution box in front of New Pioneer Co-op, so never let it be said we’re not on the lookout for new music. The cover–handmade and held together with scotch tape–features a stylized logo of an eye with a tear falling out of it, done in denim. That’s some serious attention to brand identity!

Musically Mr. Kelley is a modern American primitive not too far from late-period Tom Waits. The primitive lo-fidelity recording sound is about half an aesthetic choice and half a matter of crap equipment. The Dictaphone-quality of title track “Las Animas” detracts not a whit from its charm. Its matter-of-fact vocal delivery and bare acoustic guitar is sufficient to make its pop perfection evident. It’s a Top 40 hit from an alternate universe.

For rhythm, “Retro Man” makes the most of what sounds like someone banging on the front door. Kelley’s voice is a raspy drawl bathed in bus-station bathroom reverb. It’s hard to make out lyrics on most of these songs, but the bits that rise out of the murk have the off-handed surrealism of private daydreams. “Balance You Out” starts “This land of constant harvest waiting on that new moon, divide up these suspicions and you eat it with a spoon.” It signifies who-knows-what but it rings true, somehow, modestly conversational in its oddity. This might be tiresome if Kelley tried too hard to be Dylan on John Wesley Harding, but he avoids that trap, maybe because he’s more stilted and awkward when he tries to make sense.

A week after our editor found the mysterious CD in the LV box at the Co-op, we received a second one with a scrawled cover letter in the mail. The valediction is “Your Loving Trumpet, Eugene.” So…okay, glycerine vibraphone to you too! For all its sonic cruddiness and opaque imagery, Las Animas is as comfortable as a raggedy sweatshirt from the Crowded Closet.