I’ve been trying to write a positive review of this album for 2 months – with our editor gently bugging me – and it just won’t happen. Especially after the stunningly good Eilen Jewell gig Easter weekend which throws up Boston-area music comparisons which reflect darkly on the Bean Pickers.
OK, positives: it is very well produced except for a few aberrant moments in Down when Steve Mayone’s lap steel sounds perilously like a musical saw. Most of the playing is exemplary, especially Jess Fox’s fiddle. The melodies are pretty good, although I’m somewhat curious about what seems to be a developing trend; putting a long instrumental intro (one minute plus) in front of a song which has no relation to the song whatsoever, as in Ditch. I’ve found this on a couple of albums by other artists, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. If the music is good enough to be there, let it stand on its own as an instrumental, which is what Chuck Melchin aka The Bean Pickers Union, does with his first track, the gorgeous Proem.
I’m well aware that the album has been well reviewed with adjectives galore – ‘dark’, ‘haunting’ and ‘evocative’ are just a few – but it seems more petulant, pissed off rather than angst ridden. Some of the lyrics hit home; ‘I don’t want you to love me, I just want you to drive’ from Ditch, but most just didn’t engage me. Particularly when the rhymes were forced (‘feet’ & ‘curiosity’ just don’t rhyme) or the phrasing was messed up to hit the rhythm of words which do rhyme (‘years’ and ‘tears’), all from Down.
Maybe it is too many amazingly good Richmond Fontaine albums which seem to me to lay out the highway the Bean Pickers want to travel, but Better the Devil just don’t make it for me. I hate to say that as a lot of work and care has gone into the album and Melchin’s heart is in the right place but it is an album I wouldn’t have minded not hearing.