The violins, brass, and grating singing from El Musico's debut EP is also found on Themes From the Dusty Roads, of course together with a whole lot of Tom Waits. And if Waits is not always present in the instrumentation, he most definitely is in the atmosphere, always trying to acquire mystery; in "Chasing Clouds" you actually expect to hear Waits start singing "Black Wings." But El Musico slips out of the trap and turns the song into one of their best, with a hauntingly beautiful refrain. And on the whole they manage pretty well in creating the wanted atmosphere, with violins, the vocals of Rangmar and Andréasson intertwining beautifully, and a banjo adding the right amount of quirkiness. But maybe 14 tracks is a bit too bold here, since it is their full-length debut and the songs are not varied enough; one lullaby-sounding song like "Slow Roads" is highly enjoyable, but the gathered hobo romantic lyrics and Andréasson's whispering of the whole album have taken too much space from the organic brass orchestra heard on Strange People's Parade. Not that the East European influences (though it can be suspected most of it has come to El Musico through Waits) is all gone. "Velvet Underground" has an energetic klezmer attitude, and, surprisingly, since tribute songs where the heroes are named tend to be most embarrassing, this is one of the lyrical highlights of the album. And in spite of being less brilliant than the debut EP, Strange Peoples Parade is a good album, and El Musico sounds like few other groups – except of course for Waits, but you know that by know.
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AllMusic Review by Lars Lovén