By now, Mark Growden is probably getting tired of the comparisons to Nick Cave and Tom Waits. While he certainly bears some resemblance to those artists -- he shares Cave's penchant for drama and Waits' tendency to use unlikely combinations of instruments and junkyard percussion -- Growden is his own man. He's a stronger, more expressive singer than either Waits or Cave, and while his music is certainly rooted in blues and folk idioms, he also brings European jazz, gypsy music, and the sounds of German cabaret to the mix. The songs on Saint Judas have a cinematic feel and evolve slowly, drawing you into their dissolute world. The title track is an ominous tango that swings like mad, with Growden's accordion and Chris Grady's trumpet adding manic accents to the disjointed rhythms. "Been in the Storm to Long" is an old spiritual and Rev. Gary Davis borrowed the melody for "Death Don't Have No Mercy." Growden's take is a bluesy squall of trumpet and sax, with a wrenching, anguished vocal. "Faith in My Pocket" sounds like a traditional Appalachian lament as played by a drunken chamber group. Growden's banjo is played in and out of time, Alex Kelly's cello adds moaning accents, and Seth Ford Young's acoustic bass thumps like a broken heart. Growden and his band are expert at laying down dense, murky soundscapes with a dissonant edge that will make most listeners feel a bit unsettled. Growden's background is in jazz, new music, and theater, and in the spring of 2010, he was revamping the songs on Saint Judas for his first opera. Needless to say, this isn't a lighthearted album, but its themes of loss and limitation, dissolution and redemption, will strike a chord with those who like to walk on the dark side.
AllMusic Review by j. poet