Congo Norvell

Dope, The Lies, The Vaseline

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This album qualifies in the rarity category: While promo copies were issued, a full release never turned up due to a major reshuffle at Priority Records involving the collapse of the Basura! label. It's a severe pity, since it shows the band (whoever it might consist of -- full credits beyond Norvell, Powers, and producer Joe Chiccarelli are lacking) still in thoroughly fine form. Norvell and Powers once again make a great vocal/musical team, exploring the deeper reaches of jazzy blues and cabaret rockabilly with flair -- and, even more so than on Music to Remember Him By, with totally vicious, in-your-face results. The sheer sense of sass, sleaze, and showmanship throughout, as songs like "The Girl Who Would Be King" and "You Can Lay With Dogs" show, suggest that this album should be the soundtrack of the world's best Vegas revue. Admittedly, it would be one with nearly all the lights out, heavies strolling between the tables with barely concealed guns, and everyone completely on edge. Even on quieter numbers like "Wailing Woman" and the lovely "November (The Ballad of Mark and Travis)," there's a sense of something lurking, completely about to spring. Credit due to both Chiccarelli and the band for making it all work so well. "Murder" is especially edgy -- a relentless piano line drives the song while Norvell's singing achieves an even sharper feel. Slashing guitar and murky strings and clarinet make everything all that more like a film noir suddenly bursting to life. Sometimes things take a sweetly pretty edge -- "Summer Nights" is almost a '60s swinging pop number, thanks to what sounds like harpsichord and the gentle, strolling pace of the music as a whole. "Goodbye Song," meanwhile, is as torching and vampy as one could want, just Norvell's husky vocals and piano setting the appropriate mood.

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