All photos by Femke van Delft
You know the Salvation Army down by Zulu Records? You ever shop the used CD rack there? I have. Discs too scratchy for Zulu sometimes get ditched there, and occasionally I’ve scored cool books or vinyl, too (Monocerous by Evan Parker for a buck!). Anyhow, a few weeks ago, I was lookin’ thru their CDs, thinkin’ hm, this 7 Seconds CD is kinda TOO-too scratchy, and this Dog Faced Hermans CD actually doesn’t have any disc inside it - but hey, look, there’s a disc by Petunia (that's the official site; hear his songs here, or check Petunia's Myspace here).
Petunia gets passionate
Now: Petunia’s name has come up around me mostly in the course of my interviews - two, now - with Al Mader, aka the Minimalist Jug Band (yes, you’re right - I incorporated a bit of the first one into the second, and yes, there is a sentence-level glitch in the Nerve article, which I tend to black out with felt pens when sharing the print copy around. My editor was so used to my impeccable prose that he got lax, I guess!) Both o’their most recent CDs - Petunia’s City of Life, or: Hayride to Hell, and Al’s Thrift Stories - featured the same song, “My Gal” by Petunia yoked to Mader’s “Love isn’t Blue,” making the most of their mutual guest appearances. Fun idea, but I’d never really seen him live before or spent time on him as a solo phenomenon, and while I’m gradually being seduced to the glories of country music - the roundabout way, through oldtimey and Eugene Chadbourne covers, and the like, or, say, by Rich Hope and his Blue Rich Rangers - whom I heartily exhort any fans of the form to come see at the Railway on the 29th - I did not know that I was ready to buy a CD by anyone who yodels and appears on his CD art in a cowboy hat, however good Al told me he was. So even at $2.99, having considered it, even having carried it around the thrift store with me while I browsed, I ultimately put it back on the shelf.
Ah, penance. This weekend I paid $20 for that selfsame CD at Slickety Jim’s Chat’n’Chew, where Petunia performed alongside the Minimalist Jug Band and some guy from Abbotsford named Cam Twyford, whom I had not heard before. At first the young Mr. Twyford’s acoustic strumming seemed a tad too maudlin and hippie-sincere, with a song, say, about how raindrops dream of the clouds when they fall, but must drown in collective puddles to survive once they reach earth; a bit of a “Earnestness Yecch” factor overwhelmed the endearing aspects of some images (“we’re all magical, tragical mixed-up grasshoppers,” say), which was unfortunate. I started to warm to him when he started singing about the importance of fertilizer - well, poo, really - to gardening and the seed cycle, and by his final songs - one with the memorable couplet, which I do not at all understand, “We are the memory stealers/ We’ll amputate your feelers” - I was enjoying him quite a bit (tho’ poo came up again in his final set - “thank God for plumbing/ it takes your poo away” - which seemed an odd aesthetic choice; who would want to be pegged as “the guy who sings about poo?”). Cam DID give a plug to The Skinny, which apparently has a review of the Minimalist Jug Band’s most recent CD in their 2nd, current issue. While he wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, I would bet he’s one o’ the better singer-songwriter-folkie types that Abbotsford has produced.
Twyford’s songs alternated with those by Petunia and Al throughout the night. Performing in front of a “David Lynch red curtain” - Femke joked that she expected a dwarf to appear, and Petunia in particular, impeccably dressed and neatly groomed, looked like he could have stepped out of a country bar in Lost Highway - the two men provided a very interesting counterpoint to each other. Petunia presents as a professional cowboy performer with a long history behind him, singing in a rich, twangy, perfectly-controlled voice about how crickets were calling in the Canadian night, doing a rendition of “Blue Christmas” - as if he knew that unseasonal snow would soon start falling - and doing a terrific, passionate take of my favourite song on the new disc, “Mercy” - a sort of dark rockabilly tune with an upbeat tempo and pleasantly anguished lyrics. His patter was well-organized and perfectly delivered, and his humour - as he joked about busking in London, say, before singing a song about that city - tended to a dry, wry wit.
The Minimalist Jug Band looks to the heavens for inspiration
Tho’ Petunia did have a goofy li’l ragtime-type horn that he blew into to accompany himself at times, he came nowhere near the impassioned faux-nuttiness of Al’s performance, which tended to be a little prop-heavy that night: he had a Smarties box on a coathanger that fit around his neck where Petunia actually had an instrument; and he made a little self-assaultive gag of sawing through some wrapping material that he’d tied into his longish hair while riffing on “Take the Ribbon from My Hair,” or whatever song that was. As always, his humour was kinda self-deprecating (by request, he did “I’m a Lousy Lay” and other favourites like “Problems in a Box” - Femke was laughing aloud for that one, which she hadn’t heard before - and “Making Myself Sick.”) One treat was a new song he did about a trip to Iceland, where “people don’t die except by suicide;” he jokingly riffed on how miserable the environment was, and how at home he felt there (“I wish I’d never come here/ and I wish that I could stay...This place is miraculous. This place is ridiculous. I guess that’s true of all of us.” I’m not entirely sure I scribbled down the lyrics correctly, but the song was delightful. Probably a couple of years until it appears on CD, alas.
Andrew Burden by Femke van Delft
And if that doesn’t seem like enough for your money (which was basically by donation, tho’ most people also ate or had a beer; I recommend the turkey sandwhich - named a Dove in Your Hand, I think, or maybe a Bird in Your Bush, for reasons our cute, pleasant waitress could not explain), after Al and Petunia and Cam had all done a couple of sets, an enormous, nose-pierced, cowboy-hatted fellow named, I think, Andrew Burden (of the Golden Wedding Band) also did one song - a country blues number that was interspersed with impassioned Screamin’ Jay Hawkins-ish scats, which he roared with a gusto that made the short hairs at the back of my neck tingle and caused the ghost of Dave van Ronk to bend an ear towards the proceedings. I gather Slickety Jim’s (on Main at Broadway, btw) will be having more such events in the future. I heartily recommend checking them out, 'specially if Petunia is curating...
By the way, Al: much as I appreciate the fact that the first two - and now, doubtlessly, three - links that appear when anyone searches for you are articles written by me, you really oughta at least get a Myspace page, or Facebook, or SOMEthin'! You don't wanna be left out in the cold!