Twilight the Taj Mahal

David Massengill

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Twilight the Taj Mahal Review

by William Ruhlmann

David Massengill's music, performed on his string dulcimer and sung in his conversational baritone, with only a few added instruments here and there on this, his third regular album release, is calm and soothing, which can belie the messages in his lyrics. The simple tunes are often reminiscent of old hymns or nursery rhymes, and Massengill sings as if with a wry smile, savoring the internal rhymes, poetic images, and subtle witticisms with which his words are replete. Those words sometimes tell allusive stories reminiscent of other songs or works of literature. "The Fugitive," the lead-off song, recalls Dickens' Great Expectations in its story of a boy who meets and assists a runaway criminal, but Massengill gives things a twist in more ways than one before the tale comes to its unexpected conclusion. All the while, however, he sings sweetly, as if enjoying the storyteller's delight at setting up and fooling an audience. "Down Derry Down" is a clever and melodic pitch made by the Devil to get God's angels to join him in Hell; it sounds like a lot of fun down there. And "Sierra Blanca Massacre" inevitably calls to mind an earlier story about the deaths of immigrant workers trying to cross the Mexican border, Woody Guthrie's "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)," although Massengill's version also has a whiff of Hitler's concentration camps. That may be the album's most serious moment, but Massengill can also use his wit in the service of romance, as he does in several love songs including the title tune. And he is unafraid of risking whimsy, even including two apparently authentic spoken word tracks, one a letter he himself seems to have written as a child and another a warm, yet formal love letter perhaps depicting the courtship between his great-grandparents. If this never dips into the sentimental, it may be because Great-grandfather Massengill was a fair wit himself.

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