It's probably just a blown bagpipe, but it feels more like an ocean liner's horn blasting out your ears. Either way, the signal that starts "Faraway You," the lead track off this second disc from Philly kids Marah, hints at something special. Even better, the thing delivers: mandolins jangle in, a tambourine tumbles into place, then the banjos (lots of banjos), then a mean harp riff blares. About the moment you start wondering, "What the hell is this mess?!" a guy named David Bielanko pipes up with some rich, used-up, tossed-away, crazy-person singing— gritty-but-innocent, like old Steve Forbert—spitting a tale of "a rain-soaked mattress 'neath the apartment house of death" and "dumpster bums appeased dinin' on a dumpster feast." When the drums crash, that's when you get it—a brash, wonderful, exuberant, chaotic, celebratory piece of rock & roll, yet somehow without a single electric-guitar chord. Marah themselves are fresh, exciting, maybe even a little dangerous, which may be why Steve Earle has dubbed Marah "a literate AC/DC." Music with a brain, indeed, like what might've happened if William Faulkner or John Steinbeck had picked up Fenders instead of pens, or if Bruce Springsteen had been a novelist instead of a rocker. Bielanko and his writing-partner/brother Serge certainly have Springsteen's flair for automotive poetry ("Headlight cars do battle down the boulevard/Stoppin' in the corner bars or rollin' to get home"), and sometimes it feels like they're trying to slop new grease over "Jungleland," with their stories of dope-shooting freaks and a wide assortment of similar cretins whom you'd best not mess with. They also have writers' eyes for color and detail: check out the opening lines of "It's Only Money, Tyrone" ("Josephine cracked, her eyes black and bloodied/Screamin' gimme back all that money, Tyrone/So he snapped her neck back and slapped his lover/Put a bullet in her brain and threw her body off the bridge"). "Christian St." is more like journalism, a list of random observations seen while hoofing it around their hood ("The black boys all down in the schoolyard/Dance all crazy with their rubbery legs"). And "The History of Where Someone Has Been Killed" reads like a Scorsese script, replete with bloodstains, the stench of piss and beer, and "the ghost of greed, the ghost of fury and the ghost of fear." Yet their music is invigorating and raucous, never as dark as their prose (they cheekily proclaim themselves to be "the last rock & roll band," and maybe they are, at least this week). At South by Southwest in March, Marah played an in-store at Waterloo Records—I got there just as they were finishing up, but with all the sweat particles still fluttering in the air (both the band's and the crowd's), I knew I'd missed something cool. Don't you blow it like I did—catch one of their opening gigs sometime in the next couple of weeks. (Rich Kane)
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
MARAH PERFORMS WITH STEVE EARLE & THE DUKES AT THE SUN THEATRE, 2200 E. KATELLA AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 712-2700. THURS., AUG. 3, 8:30 P.M. $25; AND ON THE SIDE STAGE AT THE JIMMY PAGE/ BLACK CROWES SHOW AT VERIZON WIRELESS AMPHITHEATRE, 8808 Irvine Center Dr., IRVINE, (949) 855-2863, (949) 855-6111, (949) 855-8096. AUG. 15, 8 P.M. $21.50-$81.50; AND ON THE SIDE STAGE AT THE WHO SHOW AT VERIZON WIRELESS AMPHITHEATRE. AUG. 16, 6:30 P.M. $31.50-$146.50.