Riding a simple fiddle riff and chants of "Woo" that accelerate throughout, "Alimony"—a highlight from Puritan Rodeo's second album, The Magic Suit Ball—offers the wonderful sense of spinning on a demented, out-of-control carnival merry-go-round. That image works for the entire album: Like a benefit for Mr. Kite, The Magic Suit Ball is a slightly surreal and impressionistic series of sketches featuring robbery, nightmares, ghosts, murder, getting lost, whiskey, sugar mamas, giving up on life and selling your soul. Frontman John Pardue treats his lyrics and musical motifs like flashy attractions at such a celebration. Glance, and keep moving.
The Magic Suit Ball establishes its own universe, where rules don't exactly apply. Jangly pop rock is delivered with bluegrass instrumentation, and Pardue's slew of images offers itself to the listener for interpretation and—using Old Weird America as a guide—twists the tragic into the laughable. Above the off-kilter Klezmer bounce of "Heartpine," a man with a wooden heart isn't that distraught when he doesn't get a woman because, well, he has a wooden heart. And, pun intended and appreciated, the song prominently features a woodblock. What's more, this is a 40-minute album split into 15 tracks, not 15 tracks gathered for a 40-minute collection. "Where We Sleep" barely tops a minute and has no discernable verse or chorus, serving mostly as a prelude to the next track, "Fool's Gold."
"Some folks are lucky and others are not," Pardue notes on the title track. His epigram suggests that sometimes life doesn't make sense. Sometimes it does. In the end, hopefully it all works out. The Magic Suit Ball—unequal parts jokes and despair, ideas and resolution—follows the same pattern, and works out quite well.
Puritan Rodeo's John Pardue leads a Song Slinger's showcase with John Howie Jr., Nathan Golub and Brandon Herndon at The Cave Thursday, June 5, at 7:30 p.m. Puritan Rodeo plays the Carolina Brewery in Pittsboro Saturday, June 14, at 6 p.m. The band is also looking for a new drummer.