Joe West, inarguably one of Santa Fe’s musical treasures, is back with a new album under the Santa Fe Revue masthead. It’s an ambitious album, delving even further into Joe’s bleak sense of Americana at times, and pulling the weird card more than once. Let’s face it, even when he’s trying to be funny he’s sardonic as hell. If you don’t think these are admirable qualities in a musician/songwriter, perhaps the Joe West bandwagon passed you by long ago.
What this album, “Blood Red Velvet,” lacks in cohesion, it makes up for in a lush textural variance, brought about at least partially by a stellar round-up of Santa Fe sidemen-and-women, all of whom bring their own flair to the proceedings.
Worth mentioning especially, Margaret Burke makes a bid for the “Emmylou Harris of Santa Fe” position with her sweet, lilting vocals on a Warren Zevon cover: “Don’t Let Us Get Sick,” which closes the album on a lovely note.
Other good listening bets along the way are: “The Blues,” buoyed along on a surprising horn-drenched soul wave; “Don’t Let ‘Em Get You Down,” which makes me wonder what would happen if the ghost of Gram Parsons possessed Neil Young for 3 minutes and 44 seconds; and “Tara’s Song,” the latest in a seemingly endless cycle of “my latest dysfunctional infatuation” songs released over Joe’s career.
“Paradise” is hauntingly, heart-achingly beautiful. It takes everything that is iconic and bizarre about Joe and wraps it in a pretty, twangy bow. You will find yourself singing along to this if you’re not careful. Presumably the entire Revue ensemble takes the credit for this masterpiece.
Even though it’s billed as a group effort, this album is steeped with Joe’s trademark grit and wit. He may have extended this aesthetic too far on the track “Pink Nun.” Guest-star Felecia Ford, whose voice is normally a welcome tonic for my sagging ears, can’t keep this song from being relegated to the weird bin. Not that there’s anything wrong with weird. I do live in Santa Fe, after all.
Speaking of weird, a couple of tunes from Joe’s cross-dressing alter-ego – Xoe Fitzgerald – get revisited here: “I Got It All” and “Frank’s Time Travel Experiment.” Having a woman’s voice on the former almost makes it a whole new song in my book, and the Pink Floyd-esque arrangements on the latter showcase Joe’s talent for re-inventing the genre of Sci-Fi Americana. Despite its weirdness, it may be my favorite song on the album.
And, though they also play to the weird, the interstitial “skits” steer the album more toward a listening experience to be digested whole, rather than a haphazard collection of singles, and may prove to be some of the most memorable pieces of this auditory puzzle. Time, and repeated listens, will tell.
Joe West’s particular brand of hopeful melancholy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there are times when it sure is mine. “Blood Red Velvet” is absolutely one of those moments.