Heaven's Full of Monkeys

The Buzzrats

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Heaven's Full of Monkeys Review

by Mark Deming

The label of the Buzzrats' fifth album Heaven's Full of Monkeys is mocked up to look like an old Paramount Records' 78, and the first words Steve Leggett sings on the disc are "There's a string band on the corner/And they're playing 'Poor Ellen Smith'." Right off the bat, the Buzzrats plunge the listener into what Greil Marcus once called "The Old Weird America," but while the patient chug of their guitars on "Willow Tree" speaks of a calm buffered by weary resignation that recalls a long-lost era in American life, there's never any escaping that this music lives and breathes in the 21st century. While Leggett may still dream of hearing his tunes pouring out of a five cent jukebox on "78s," he's also looking for a woman with a smile like Ellen Barkin, he spies the Mighty Diamonds singing on a Trenchtown street corner, he marvels at the night sky over his trailer park, man-made landscapes baffle the pelicans, and the musical Holy Lands of Memphis and New Orleans are shadows of their former selves. There's a glorious, elliptical poetry in Leggett's impressionistic lyrics, and the rich layers of guitars (with Leggett, Vino Veasley, Phil Tepley and Dan Allen all manning six-strings) and rhythms (Allen's drums and Charlie Murphy's hand percussion face off against Rob Crozier and Todd Perkins' bass work) are an ideal complement to the ebb and flow of lyrical images; for sheer strength atmosphere, this album could be a sunnier but equally resonant blood brother to American Music Club's Everclear. Heaven's Full of Monkeys is a meditation on a world where the blues of past and present have a surprising amount to say to one another, and it's beautiful and truly fascinating listening that invites you to dive deep into its heady pulse.

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