Friday, September 9, 2011

Stutterin' Jimmy & the Goosebumps: Howllelujah Vol. 1

This article was originally published for  The Ticket - Des Moines Edition, another blog I am associated with.. The idea of publishing it here is to bring even more awareness to this great new act out of Des Moines. -Troy

It's the middle of the night in the swampy forest and I am afraid for my life. The half moon does little to light the area around me as I am entrenched beneath a canopy of brush huddled up with my back against the trunk of a black willow tree. My senses are in over drive as I listen hard for sounds of danger... The rustling of water to my left has me concerned, as does the ancient stillness of the air itself. But what really has my attention is the baying of the wolf hound... Once a cry in the far distance, it continues to draw closer and closer to where I am huddled.

It's not a common howl. There is a shrill to it's mournful wail, as if it is a warning of bad things to come. As I grow more and more fearful, I wonder if the wolf has been persecuted or injured. The cry doesn't seem to come from a wolf that has been separated from a pack and is looking to reconnect. This howl is more menacing than it is lonesome, and aside from the occasional rustle in the water, it is the only thing in the forest that is making a sound.

A howl... And three minutes pass.

Another howl, this time much closer...

Four minutes later another howl, even closer still...

And so forth.

I feel that this beast can sense my presence just as I sense his. With each cumbersome wail, I know it wont be long until this monster is right on top of me... What can he want? It's as if the devil himself has sent this creature to snatch my soul!

Suddenly the wind picks up out of the east. It doesn't escape me that this is also the direction that the wolf's howls seems to be coming from... It's blowing hard against the canopy of trees, snapping limbs like fragile sticks of glass. I have to squint my eyes and turn my head from the debris that is crashing against my face and the rest of my body. I have no alternative but to move to the west side of the tree to use it's trunk as a barrier from the wicked storm that has suddenly collapsed upon me. The wind continues to blow harder and faster and with each increasing knot there comes a darker shadow of dread... It's an evil gale and everything unholy... That's unmistakable. It's suddenness and unrelenting power digs deep into my being, as if it is reaching for my soul. It swirls and taunts me, as if it is a prelude to something sinister and wretched. It is beckoning me... Or maybe it's a warning. There is nothing sacred to call upon that will save me now...

Suddenly it stops, and the swamp is extremely quiet.

Completely unnerved, I stand up and move a few steps forward. Where did that wind come from, and where was it going? I thought to myself.

Suddenly I felt the sense of dread all over again, but this time it ten times worse. Fear took me to a level of shock and I felt myself unable to move. A slight warm draft was blowing on the back of my neck but I knew it wasn't the summer breeze sneaking in from the south. I bristled as the howl rang out... Immediately behind me and loud enough to drown out the whistle of a freight train.

I stood frozen in fear as the wolf showed itself to me. The canopy above me was gone, a victim of the fierce wind that had just blown through. I could see that this beast was the size of a horse and it's raven colored fur looked blueish gray in the moonlight that was now provided to me. With balls of fire in it's eye sockets it approached me and stared into my eyes, into my soul. ... I stood, unable to move.

I cringed with extreme fear as it seemed to smile at me just as it's mighty jowls snapped for my neck...

I layed in my bed for a few minutes unable to move. I immediately knew that this had been nothing more than an awful dream, but I wasn't quite ready to accept that notion entirely. The imagery was so real, as was the feeling of absolute terror. It was as vivid as anything I had ever imagined before, and it seemed to hold purpose... What could have triggered such a supernatural apparition? According to my digital alarm clock, I had been in bed for just over an hour. I'd fallen asleep to a new CD I acquired by Stutterin Jimmy and the Goosebumps called Howllelujah Volume 1. The irony of it's name didn't escape me as I tried to gain my composure.

It wasn't the first time I had listened to the CD. I probably listened to it in it's entirety 10-12 times in the 48 hours in which I had it in my possession. As a five song EP, it's pretty short as far as time goes, but it packs a very powerful punch. It's opening track, Westward Winds waste no time in showcasing Jimmy's haunting voice and lyrics, taking you into his black and white dream scape with imagery of the most lucid nature. This remorseful ballad spills Jimmy's struggles into our ears like a bucket of paint that has been knocked over in the grass, and just as you reach out to grasp it, it's snatched away in a windfall of dust. And that's it... It'd make the perfect soundtrack for a dream.

The light hangs on the street
And through the trick of the mind
I saw you in the corners of my eyes
As you walked on by
I tried to call out your name
But you don't hear me no more
But here comes the thunder
Here comes the westward winds
Here comes the thunder
Here comes the westward winds

Darren Mathews, who managed to steal time away from his normal projects, Thankful Dirt and The Lamplighters, plays a slide guitar on this track that is riveting and dangerous and as blusterous as the wind itself. It lends itself to this song like a snowflake lends itself to winter. His guitar is equally as haunting as Jimmy's voice and lyrics, and the combination of both is inter dimensional. This track which is the longest on the EP at just over five minutes, is the perfect introduction into Jimmy's mind and his music. I was aware that there were demons in Jimmy's past... I just didn't realize that they were still writing songs in his head.

My girlfriend said that Stutterin' Jimmy "bridges the story telling tradition and the musical tradition." I couldn't agree more. As unique as it is, his sound hails from many influences. The next track on the EP is the only song that wasn't written by Jimmy. "Old Fashioned Morphine" sounds as if it came out of the cotton fields in the late 1800s, but it was actually released in 2004 by Jodie Holland. It's catchy lyrics have long been a standard in Jimmy's live performances when he has played around the Des Moines area, and I recognized it right away. Again, Darren's slide guitar is played masterfully, and it is a perfect compliment to Jacob Berhow's acoustic guitar. Jacob comes from a long line of Des Moines bands, most recently Jacob County and the Damaged Goods and Johnny Reeferseed and the High Rollers. I ran into him last weekend outside the House of Bricks in Des Moines, and he seemed very happy to tell me that he was now a part of Jimmy's band. Darren and Jacob are two of the greatest guitar players ever to come out of Iowa, and it's a beautiful thing whenever the two of them get together. Vikenti "EZ" Belovson's bass and Joe McGuire's drums lend perfect rhythm for this boisterous marching beat.

Stutterin' Jimmy (seated in car) with the Goosebumps
(Photo by DMI Photography)
And then there is Jimmy's voice. These vocals seem to come up through his soul from the ground he is standing on. His voice on this track, in harmony with the voice of Crystal Fields (Cleo's Apartment) make for a very lively version of this song. The original has a few more verses to it, but I like Jimmy's rendition much better. Near the end of the song when he howls out the lyrics... You get a sense on how he came up with the name, The Goosebumps.

The next track, "500 Miles" features Erik Brown (The Maw, Thankful Dirt) on trumpet, Deb Daniels on bass, and Sam Allyn playing guitar, slide guitar, and drums. Erik's trumpet is a perfect compliment to Sam's slide guitar and it never ceases to amaze me how good a trumpet can sound in the rock and roll genre. This song is the perfect example of that, as is the next track, "Oh Captain."

"Oh Captain" again features Erik's trumpet, this time in a more vigorous fashion. It surrounds Jimmy's voice in perfect Louie Armstrong fashion as Jimmy sings, "Jesus take me home!" Sam lends his keyboard skills to this track , and also guitar and backing vocals. This is a personal favorite on the EP. Knowing Jimmy and recognizing his spirituality, this song seems to epitomize what Jimmy is all about.

The EP closes out with the subtle toned and auto-biographical "Hymn of Rebirth". It's Jimmy lamenting his past and reaching for a brighter future. It's something that we all have gone through, and few are able to put it to beautiful music as Jimmy has. "Hymn of Rebirth" should be played at graduations, marriages and funerals...It's message speaks to everyone and it needs to be shared.

This Sunday House Records production is outstanding. It's amazing to me to know that this CD was recorded in a basement studio. Kevin Moll did an exceptional job in mixing the tracks and it was engineered perfectly. Hats off also to Flynn at DNR, who mastered the album. Hats off especially to Stutterin' Jimmy for bringing this album to the light of day. As far as local musicians go, there are not too many who are as kind and deserving as he is, and this album is a testament to his righteous virtues. Despite it's small size, it is one of the finer albums to come out of Des Moines in a very long time.

I know that we all have demons. And I think that my own were speaking to me through the horrifying dream I had. As I layed awake I realized that my nightmare didn't come as a result from listening to Jimmy's EP, it merely lent itself as a fabrication to what was real in my own soul. Howllelujah Volume 1 does conjure up dark imagery, but in no way should it be reflected as being a "dark" album. It's goodness is what makes it Jimmy's, along with the truthful attitude in which it was written, and the proficiency of his human spirit to overcome the obstacles in his life.

Jimmy asked me if I wanted him to tell me about the "spirit" of the album and I said no. Having seen him play live numerous times, I was well aware of the spirit that he was putting into his life and music. This album encompasses that, and provides a gentle reminder that we are all capable of conquering the demons that keep us pinned down.

Look for Howlelujah Volume 2 next spring.


Anonymous said...

Great write up Troy! You imagery is very realistic. Really enjoyed the dream sequence.

- Curt

Anonymous said...

Jimmy's stellar debut deserves just such an intently felt response. Keep on - good news travels fast!