Tav Falco's Panther Burns / Tav Falco

Conjurations: Seance for Deranged Lovers

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It's been 11 years since Tav Falco and Panther Burns have released an album of new material (the last was 2000's Panther Phobia). Falco has been busy, working as a film producer, director, and actor; studying the tango and becoming a dancer; re-forming the band for festival appearances in Europe and the United States, and becoming the author of Ghost Behind the Sun: Splendor, Enigma & Death (Mondo Memphis, Vol. 1), a musical history of the city from the Civil War to the present. All of this, of course, makes Conjurations: Seance for Deranged Lovers, a special occasion. The lineup, a quintet, features a slew of guitars, from baritone and bass to slide and electric six-strings, plus percussion. There is a trio of guests playing piano and harpsichord, bandoneon, and cello as well. Recorded at Section Musicale on the Saint-Germain-des-Prais in Paris, musically Conjurations is the most ambitious recording in Falco's career. This doesn't mean it's "progressive" in any way. Falco's unique, even trademark meld of theatrical personas and styles here -- from blues, rockabilly, tango, chanson, swing and decadent cabaret balladry to mid-20th century rock & roll -- are all distinctly rooted in Memphis. The album plays like a suite, which makes for sometimes jarring transitions: the jangly, midtempo rock balladry of "Ballad of the Rue de la Lune" to the downright nasty distortion blues of "Sympathy of Mata Hari" -- the album's first two cuts -- are one example, but even more so are the lilting, cinematic "Chamber of Desire," driven by Falco's guitar and a harpsichord with the dirty-assed slide guitar madness of "Administrator Blues." Elsewhere, the elegantly ragged "Budapest" bridges two tangos: "Tango Fatale" and "Secret Rendezvous," both marrying the influence of Astor Piazzolla's bandoneon and Carlos Gardel's singing style to film noirish American blues. The grimy harpsichord psychedelia of "Garden of the Medicis" is simply startling as it moves from rocker to uptempo waltz. Falco saves the best for nearly last, however, with the Link Wray-esque, swaggering, decadent rocker "Gentleman in Black," which eclipses into "The Phantôme Demoiselle" -- which channels Johnny Cash at Sun Studios -- before closing it all out with what can only be called a Memphis tango in "Conjuration of Masques." Falco's lyrics have to be heard to be believed, and are as engaging as his brilliant track annotations in the booklet. While better sounding -- sonically -- than any Panther Burns offering in the past, Conjurations is also one of the very best.

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