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Jo Carley & The Old Dry SkullsJo Carley & The Old Dry Skulls
Album: Them Old Bones
Label: Old Higue
Tracks: 12
Website: http://www.olddryskulls.com

I remember this wonderfully-named combo from the start of 2015, when I reviewed their EP Rags And Bones and forecast great things for any forthcoming full-length album. Well it’s been quite a wait, but I’m not in the slightest bit disappointed with this followup release, which delivers a full dozen tracks of that special Old Dry Skulls musical mayhem. Judging from the sleeve credits, they’ve gone through a state of lineup transition, with original members Jo and Tim Carley sharing two different bass players – Hawkeye Houlihan on yer standard double bass on half the cuts, and James Le Huray doing duty on electric bass (both upright and basic models) on the rest. Whoever the underpinner tho’, the vibe of this outfit is sparky, lively, full of bounce and swing and a compelling onward thrust. And yet there’s also a crazed gothic horror-comic sensibility, a totally weird wired-to-bizarro, which is partly down to the good influence of like-minded soulmate producer Alex McGowan. Tim describes working with Alex thus: “It sounds exactly how we imagined it when writing the songs, really retro and vintage, like an old record from our treasured collection but with some amazing twists and turns”. The press tag has been updated and now reads “Jo Carley & The Old Dry Skulls throw Old Time Roots music, Ska and Punk into a backwoods still to make musical moonshine”, and I can’t do better than that – and that description’s enough to send you runnin’ to the record store!

The Old Dry Skulls are still anything but old or dry, although their gritty clattery, jittery home-made instruments sway, grind and swagger like nobody’s business. And Jo’s vocal is brilliantly devastating, cranked right up beyond 12 on tracks like the incendiary harmonica-soaked rap of Into The Fire but then capable of subtler light and shade on closing would-be-lullaby The Wolves, They Will Follow. The sleazy 1930s nightclub timewarp aura of the band’s original EP is even more distorted here, then, with several tracks transforming themselves midway and back again with madcap yet logical section-breaks and headlong tempo changes, and weirdly it all makes sense. Dance Till You’re Dead is an exercise in crazy gypsy thrash and punk banjo breakdown, while Devil In A Black Dress messes with Bananarama and cheeky rude-boy ska (and somehow gets away with it). Contemplate Your Moves brings in dub, while Nails And Needles makes the skin creep with its eerie jaw’s harp mantra and thudding backbeat and B.O.T.H.E.R. Bother! quickly escapes from its doomy incantation into a rant about product branding. The title track is the closest aural expression of its literality, encapsulating the heady campfire dance it conjures – deliberately, because “the songs sound old, maybe they’ve always been there, just waiting to be dug up and played by the right kind of weird musicians. It’s the bones of the band’s musical ancestors but with a modern vibe and a punk twist.” And hell, it don’t let up! Yeah, no mistake, the whole of this record is AWESOME!

David Kidman