Misses Ellen Sunday and Her Fantastic Cats: This is Our House
One of the more untold joys of music, or any art, is the thought that it can just happen, that people can just throw their pieces out into the air and it will come together in a song. That song that comes together might not be a spit-shined product, might not have had a fancy studio, producer, or record label behind it, but actually might just be a song--a passing of the time, a way for people to come together, something that feels good to do and to be around. It's a sense that comes through most live, but people still buy lo-fi records, and for more than just their "charm." Along those lines, this unassuming little record from Misses Ellen Sunday and Her Fantastic Cats feels less like a proper, calculated document and more like someone left a tape recorder running in the room, one of This Is Our House's joys.
It's worth noting that according to the handwritten liner notes accompanying This Is Our House, the album was recorded in Westport in South Baltimore on May 22, 2009, and this review is being written three weeks later. One of the advantages of doing it DIY is you can do things such as turn a record around in the time it takes to rip some CD-Rs and paste a couple of photos--of their house, presumably--onto a cardboard CD sleeve.
Of course, all of the above about spontaneity and community in music is basically where folk music and traditional songs come from, and House serves up both. The record opens with "Train on the Island," a traditional tune that dates back to the 1920s, in which Jason Reed absolutely murders an acoustic guitar--he starts slow with nimble finger picking and, three minutes later, you imagine busted guitar strings whipping into the rafters. Elsewhere, Reed and bandmate Kristi Allen lend their voices to the Sacred Harp tune "Pisgah" which, well, sounds cool, and unearthing shape-note songs is always a good thing. The originals are all pretty likable, usually a banjo or guitar and either Allen or Reed's voice, usually the later, and maybe some ramshackle percussion. The sleepy "Hawaiian Tee's" employs an icy fiddle to nice effect. It reappears a few songs later on "Whiskey Bossanova," which conveys a simple enough message: "Can't pay your rent/ now stay in bed/ Whiskey make you sick." But, good lord, it's hard to imagine a better accompaniment to this record. Moonshine, perhaps.