Luther & Toby

Karny Sutra

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Label honcho Toby Dammit had prepared his ground with the 2003 reissue of two of George Montalba's kitsch-church organ music -- and publicizing the Satanist mystery surrounding his name by dispelling it. Luther & Toby's debut CD builds over all three elements: the organ (a Hammond B3, this time around), the atmosphere of old (going back to Murnau's) horror films, and the kitsch mood you get when adding one to the other. Luther & Toby is basically a B3-and-drums duo, although Luther Hawkins also plays piano (acoustic and electric), clavinet and other keyboards, and Toby Dammit supplements his kit playing with a lot of concert percussion, for that extra drama. Fans of the Scandinavian duo Sagor & Swing will find much to like here, although both duos stand at both ends of the organ/drums spectrum. The music of S&S is lightly psychedelic, melancholy, and full of pastoral Nordic melodies. The music of L&T on the other hand is dark, mysterious, with devilish accents -- fire over ice. Waltzes, marches and dances abound and seem to involve creatures that are not always 100 percent human. Highlights include the opening "Lucrezia Borgia Waltz" (yes, you do know what to expect with a title like that), "Hombres Machos" and "King's Triad," all featuring organ melodies, delicate drumwork and irresistible retro-horror moods. The album loses steam in the second half of the program, especially due to the bland piano ballad "Aluminum Lady" and the overlong (although still relevant) experimental textures of "Fountain of the World." Music aside, there is another reason why you might want this album: Christian and Rob Clayton's cover paintings are exquisite -- a blend of naive art, horror fantasy and faux-African art -- William Mortenson's photographs could be advertising a decadent silent horror flick, and the collages in Michael Criley's generous scrapbook-booklet add yet another layer of esthetic strangeness to the packaging, one of the most luxurious you may ever see. This album is an unexpected ear and eye candy -- and a must-listen on Halloween night.

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