Ed Kuepper

I Was a Mail Order Bridegroom

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So named because it originally was a mail-order-only project, though copies later turned up elsewhere for regular sale, I Was a Mail Order Bridegroom is one of Ed Kuepper's finest releases, his equivalent of an MTV Unplugged appearance but many times better than the usually dull efforts that implies. Recorded in early 1995 with just himself and his guitars -- possibly as a side effort from the King in the Kindness Room sessions, recorded around the same time -- it's a 16-song set that revisits new and old songs both, along with a few well-chosen cover versions. As is to be expected from Kuepper, his warm, mournful voice is in full flight, while his guitar playing doesn't hold back -- the quick, almost frenetic work on the opening "When She's Down" alone dispels any images of this being some kind of reflective fireside singalong. Similarly high-speed renditions of "The Cockfighter" and "Ill Wind" make the point clearer, while the slower numbers emphasize tension rather than relaxation (check out the flat-out wonderful versions of "Little Fiddle" or "Everything I've Got Belongs to You" for proof). The production, which is pretty heavy on the flanging for the guitars and light on the echo for the vocals, really brings out the beautiful, mesmerizing chime of Kuepper's playing. The result more often than not is a remarkable new vision of many familiar songs. "The Way I Made You Feel," with its slippery descending chorus melody; a grand take on the Saints' classic "Messin' With the Kid"; and takes on the Who's "The Seeker" and Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" are all worth the price of the full album. Perhaps the best thing about this album is that every song sounds like the best thing Kuepper has ever done while it's playing -- high praise, perhaps, but it's the easiest way to capture the disc's lovely, entrancing spirit.

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