This review was first
published on CLUAS in 2002
Other albums reviewed in 2002
A review of their album '23rd Psalm Cafe'
Admittedly, I've been on a bit of a rootsy-americana trip of late, what with the Josh Ritters, Gillian Welchs and the like. With this in mind, I was really looking forward to my hot-date with El Diablo's '23rd Psalm Cafe'. I enjoyed that little yarn about how they happened upon the title - '23rd Psalm Cafe' being a devout Christian venue in Nashville, Tennessee where they once played under an assumed moniker. Naturally, a band going by the name of El Diablo probably wouldn't have gone down too well with the locals - and of course, I'd heard good things.
Initially, however, my date was disappointing, it just didn't strike a chord. Opening track 'Maryland Bed' was weak and on others like 'My Wild Rose', 'Love Hurts' and 'Our Love's Gone Wrong Again' the bi-vocalist approach seemed to cancel out each other rather than enhance. 'The Wandering One' and 'Intemperate Man' went for a your turn, my turn, your turn stab and despite being very solid tunes you'd be crying out for either singer to take the song on. All in all it just struck me as being too blatantly formulaic.
A hook was needed and it was needed quickly. Thankfully, determination paid off and it came in the shape of the wonderful 'Bellies With Gold', a simple ballad with genuine feel. Not to dwell on the fact but it would be remiss not to mention the obvious similarity to Nick Cave. The more uptempo 'Trailer Park Blues' and the stomping 'Shitkickers Inc.' soon followed, the latter a sprightly, hillbilly jive. Recorded in Nashville, 'Jerusalem Hills' also stands out as an authentic slice of country music belying its creator's Irishness. Although, I'm sure I'm not the only listener who consulted the sleeve notes expecting to see Josh Ritter's name.
If you are willing to put the effort in, you will be satisfied with your purchase. As an album, excluding 'Maryland Bed' which still doesn't excite, it ain't half bad. Taken song for song though, there a handful of real gems and if you focus on these the others will grow around them.