Junk Parlor, one of my favorite Bay Area’s bands, has just released its third album and it is as zany, fun, and full of stealthy sophisticated music as the band’s first offerings Wild Tones and Melusina – in fact, more so. Electricity for Dreams is a compact eight songs that take you from howling coyotes to dancing with Bella Lugosi and a lot in between, all fun, all danceable, and all top-of-your-playlist material.
Junk Parlor is an acquired taste. It requires a wry, perhaps slightly tilted sense of humor, an ear for complex music, and the courage to dance to …well, sometimes, polkas. But, even if you don’t have all of that, (don’t we all?) band co-founder Jason Vanderford and his merry crew of musicians will get under your skin and in your veins, making you giggle during the day and have strange dreams at night.
They kick the album off with “Beneath Your Love”, with Vanderford’s story-telling voice bracketed by the restrained drumming co-founder RT Goodrich and JD Limelight and some less restrained guitar chords to put you beneath a blanket on the coast among the freaks, watching clouds, trying to drink it all in and…well. you just have to listen. As you ponder what it all means, you find yourself suddenly immersed in the next song, “Crocodiles”, lying in a room beneath the bottom of the sea, swaying to the mesmerizing fiddling of Laela Peterson-Stolen. And of course Tim Bush is back there on the electric fretless bass making it all deeper, better and sometimes darker.
After Electricity for Dream drags you out of the crocodile room the album tosses you into the wish world of a small town girl with big eyes and a drunk husband as she asks “Dance with Me Bela Lugosi” and finds her wish fulfilled. Be careful what you wish for, but do wish to put this song on replay it is so much fun.
And fun is exactly what Goodrich and Vanderford had in mind when they serendipitously founded the band in 2013 (they got their first booking before they had a band name). The music is best described as eclectic, joyful schizophrenia that can range from 50’s rock and roll layered over gypsy rhythms with a bit of Rhumba, tango, Eastern Euro/Hungarian music, belly dance, punk and comedic storytelling.
Recorded in Oakland – hence the instrumental “Midnight in Oakland” – the album is an evolution from the mostly instrumental Wild Tones and Melusina’s foray into vocals and storytelling spun out from Vanderford’s strange mind and parlor full of antique furniture and ancient paintings. But it is not all Vanderford. Astute fans will note the white wolves that appear on JP’s first album cover and home photos and memorialized in “Howl Like a Coyote”, a rapid-fire dance number about feral children raised by wild animals. The “wolves” are actually dogs and belong to band co-founder and Cajon and drum player RT Goodrich and his wife . While, to my knowledge they have not raised any feral children, the dogs have inspired many a photo and probably a few songs along the way.
In addition to dogs, RT brings sly, erudite drumming to every song. He is a master of playing under the song, not stepping on the vocals, yet creating the rhythmic tapestry that is the essence of JP’s music. He can switch from the drum kit to the Cajon to a combination of percussion tools, each one tailored to the composition at hand. Sometimes you are not aware of the drumming until you listen carefully for it and then you realize how critically central it is, even in the midst of accordion and violin beat sets. JD Limelight augments this with Cajon and drumming and steps out front and center with the accordion, bringing another colorful layer to the music and its uniqueness.
That rhythmic genius is on display in “Ragged Heart” – understated but yet it is essentially a polka, or it could be a jump dance, where you expect more percussion emphasis. But RT leaves space for Vanderford to spin out the story with dreamlike images and wry humor. As you sit down and take a break from swirling around the room to “Ragged Hearts”, JP wraps up with a high energy and very stylish “The Basso” instrumental. Led by the soaring violin chords of Laela Peterson-Stolen the song moves from polka to Eastern European spin dance as it is punctuated by soft strumming breakdowns. A dance tune, yes, but also one to just listen to as it speeds up past most people’s dancing ability. Just plain fun.
Junk Parlor is also a touring machine, building a solid fan base on the West Coast with live performances. Their music has been licensed by Hilton Hotels, Abercrombie and Fitch, Tilly’s, and Royal Caribbean Cruise lines, so chances ae if you have heard it you will on your next vacation.. The band is on the road with this album, in NorCal now but hopefully from San Diego to the Canadian border and many stops in between. I have attended many of its live shows and they are party time – lots of whirling, jigging, bouncing and cheering. If they will be in your city, see them live; whether or not you can see them live, this is an album to have.