Here comes Huffamoose … again.
Eighteen years after I Wanna be Your Pants, the Philadelphia-based quartet is back with … and that’s when the golf ball hit me in the head. While the music is immediately identifiable for its quirky, off-kilter melodies; cynical, yet heartfelt, lyrics; and Craig Elkins’ laconic vocal delivery, some things have changed as the Huffamoose men are – like their fans – now middle aged and electric guitarist Kevin Hanson sings half of the LP’s 10 tracks.
It’s an album that makes you laugh on the first pass and makes you think on subsequent listens and the result is my second-favorite Huffamoose album after the band’s self-titled debut.
“Mary” and “Celeste,” who in the 1990s were willing to listen to Elkins’ apologies, are now “Melinda Marion,” who pretends she doesn’t seem him at the mall, even as the singer ’fesses: “I miss the me that belonged to us.”
It’s one of many times Elkins notes the passage of time – “what’s happenin’ to my ass crack/it appears to be migrating north,” he laments on the countrified “Devolution,” where the singer discovers that we’re all born as Coltranes before becoming Kenny G.s as the years roll by.
Elkins uses “Summer” as a metaphor for those golden years between, say, 18 and 25, that people try to stretch into their 50s. Driven by Jim Stager’s simple yet infectious bassline and Eric Johnson’s frenetic drum fills, the second cut gives the album its title and sums up its gist after Elkins sees himself in a window and finds his dad staring back at him.
“And that’s when the golf ball hit me in the head/that I’m further away from 20 than I am to dead …/and the white replaced the red in my three-day-old beard/and everywhere I go, the youngins call me sir.”
Hanson, making his debut as a Huffamoose lead vocalist, uses his tenor to juxtapose Elkins’ deliciously laid-back delivery, which shifts wildly from baritone to falsetto and sounds like no one else. The guitarist borrows a snippet of “Day Tripper” for “Birds,” a loping blues that features slide guitar and more exquisite work from the rhythm section, and turns to a flautist to add a breezy feel to “Don’t Look Now,” which calls out modern America for its backward-looking stance.
He, too, is an inventive lyricist, pointing out that every snowflake has a twin when it liquefies on the soaring ballad “Son of a Gun” and describing alcoholism more hysterically and honestly than nearly anyone ever has on “Oh, Whiskey,” an infectious track that features a Jew’s harp on the intro and a fiery solo from Hanson on the outro.
“Oh, whiskey, what made you juggle those plates and pry off the Barbie doll legs in front of the neighbors/bad things come without warning, so meet me in the basement for a quick one/you have the right stuff, don’t you/do not exaggerate the thread count in the fabric of your cosmos.”
People familiar with Huffamoose have spent the past quarter-century wondering why this band failed to take off. And the mystery is something Elkins also explores on the bookending tracks “Send Out Your New Song,” which addresses marketing in the virtual age as he and his ‘mates try to keep the dream alive, and the breezy “Wind Outta My Sails,” in which the singer and acoustic guitarist takes solace in his family even as he acknowledges things haven’t turned out as he planned.
… and that’s when the golf ball hit me in the head is an album that should be picked up on faith alone as it proves – again – Huffamoose is the best band you’ve never heard of. People who go for sharp, insightful lyrics, virtuosic playing and untraditional melodies won’t be disappointed.