'Let's face it - the Coal Bin Bros. Just probably drunkenly jam a lot better than most.' - Matt Walters, CEO, Spade Kitty Records Coal Bin Bros. - Funeral Album - 4.5 stars out of 5 Matt Walters, Spade Kitty Records www.spadekitty.com When I first heard from Nately that the infectious Coal Bin Bros. ^#^were embarking on a concept piece for their second album, I'll admit that I had no clue how they could pull it off. Many, many questions immediately sprang to mind. Funeral Album? Who wants to hear an entire album about death? How many songs about cemeteries could they possibly write? How the hell would their wit and mirth be able to wade through such a dark concept? Would my laundry get done in time for dinner? Well, I'm happy to report that all questions have been answered. The laundry was indeed finished, and PERHAPS more importantly, my initial trepidation has been totally assuaged. The Coal Bin Bros. ^#^have absolutely succeeded in doing the only thing they could've done on the heels of their fantastic debut...they have made an overblown, absurd concept album exactly as overblown and absurd as it needed to be, while retaining the charm and wit of the predecessor but discarding the seriousness that weighs down most concept albums. After the remarkable Barred for Life, it was honestly difficult to imagine where the Bros. ^#^could go for their follow-up. Some artists paint themselves into a corner stylistically, to a degree that they find it ultimately difficult to escape the nomenclature and trappings of whatever genre they're packaged into. Conversely, the Bros. ^#^had actually painted themselves into a f***ing gigantic field the size of music itself. They had touched all bases thematically, musically, lyrically and comedically on Barred for Life, and unlike a lot of others, the incredible sprawl of the album was actually ameliorated by it's ambitious eclecticism. Thankfully, both of these tendencies were each kept in check by the intensely personal charm of their home recordings. And despite it's immense scope, Barred for Life managed to sound like it was three friends jamming in your living room as the party wound down. All of us have been there, seven beers too many in, and usually wanting for better music than our drunk pals can summon but I can certainly assure you few of us have been as entertained by the songs on Barred for Life. Let's face it - the Coal Bin Bros. Just probably drunkenly jam a lot better than most. Nonetheless, I digress - after all, the ostensible topic of this essay is the Funeral Album, the sophomore jinx, not freshman folly, of the Coal Bin Bros.. Although the record is actually aided and abetted by more co-writing henchmen than ever - a former member here, a brother of that former member there, an uncle here, a former bandmate there, a cousin of a son-in-law's mother here, a spiderish dude there - it still manages to retain a thematic cohesion, consistency in sound quality and a self-similar tone that was often wanted for on the debut. Most importantly, the three have written interlocking pieces thematically, and occasionally it seems as those former themes are reinforced musically by later songs, at least in typically perverted CBB fashion. The Bros. ^#^have actually gotten better at their conjuring - and while there's easily as many instruments as the last album, including all the flutes, acoustic guitars, melodicas, vibraphones, tympanis, contra bassoons and synclaviers that one can expect from a Coal Bin Bros. ^#^release (ok, I made a couple of those up), everything sounds snapped into place whereas on Barred for Life the sound occasionally became overtly convoluted. More than anything, it's immediately apparent that there's not only much more space on this album, but it just flat out rocks harder in a lot of spots and has much sharper edges to it, overall. The Funeral Album, although it is appropriately titled, is not just about death. It's about death, religion and life altogether. And although the tales told lyrically have just as much sarcasm, cunning and wit as before, there's very little pessimism and cynicism I can detect underneath the surface, which is, perhaps, reinforcing the most important aspect of this group. At several points during both albums, the band makes a conscious choice to stay above the fray and always pokes fun rather than digs and cuts. After all, death can be funny, and although there is loss, we learn about life through death, we learn about life and death through religion, and we learn about death and religion in life. These are inherently interwoven aspects of a triangle rife with material for the twisted minds of our three heroes. One of the most immediate improvements is that the voices have been pushed forward, and the lyrics and vocals are allowed to appropriately take center stage. Nately's lead vocal aerobics, even at their most exacerbated, occasionally will even stylistically (if not quite technically) mimic the vitriolic delivery of Freddie Mercury, but his cuts are more playful and always with a smile rather than a sneer. In contrast, the vocals of JayZeeZee Zippy are plaintive but effective and melodic, and on his leads in songs such as 'I'll Be Your Sun' he offers a fitting contrast to Nately's theatrics. Moreover, the blending of their two voices in several songs is as mellifluous as we dare describe, even when Lowenbrau 'Holier-than-thou' Matty-O is very occasionally allowed out of his cage vocally. And all your favorite references are here, from the Dirty Livin' of Peter Criss to an offhanded wink to The Beatles. Thankfully the Bros. ^#^not only wear their influences on their sleeve....they tend to know exactly what their audience is listening to and laugh with them as the references are dropped. In terms of the instrumentation, the acoustic guitar shines as the album's centerpiece, a rustic, bright treble to chart the dark waters of the thematic course. It's remarkable how cunning that choice actually was, and emphasizes all that the group again understands about contrast, because it offsets the din of the minors keys and other instruments just enough to keep things melodically very steady. As mentioned previously, it's important to know that while there are just as many instruments as before, the group does dial back the number of instruments per song and uses space and timing much more effectively than their debut. In terms of the songs themselves, one of the most surprising aspects kicks you in the teeth immediately - the inclusion of an obscure John Entwistle song as a cover version, stunningly sequenced into the leadoff position of the album. It's a risky move - putting a cover not only high up in the sequence but actually leading off this album. However, the group owns the song, and actually makes it sound like one of their own concoctions. Amazingly, the Bros. ^#^managed to find the perfect song written by someone else to weave into their piece thematically, and simultaneously pay homage to long underrated songwriting of the bassist. 'Ted End' is a choice track extracted from his oft overlooked debut solo LP, originally issued in 1971 to rave reviews but very little commercial fanfare. Immediately following is the pop sing-a-long of 'Say One Thing (Do Another)', and actually opens with the same chord the previous song lands on, which is another pleasant surprise in that the album was very obviously consciously sequenced. As previously mentioned, the themes seem musically reinforced throughout the album, not only lyrically and in terms of overall tone, but also in terms of short melodies that seem to reappear in subsequent songs. This could be that the Bros. ^#^are just getting better at being themselves, but there's something just beneath the surface that tells me it's not subconscious. No, this is a calculated move, and once again, a bold and unexpected step forward for a band that had hard shoes to fill after their sensational first album. Another song worth highlighting is the album centerpiece "Live It Up" which has exactly as many trappings as the longest song on any concept album should have - a preposterous climax and overarching and absurd thematic overtures. I mean this in the best possible way; the song rocks hard and definitely is a fitting hallmark of the entire album. The Bros. ^#^reach for it all in this one - and they may just have the whole world in their hands, if not all too briefly. As I'm typing this, word has come down that our friends are in the process of working on yet another release, entitled Full Contact BINGO. One wonders what the Coal Bin Bros. ^#^could possibly have in the works this time. I almost don't want to know - anything this band sets it's mind to seems possible, although we can be sure that these three will deliver. One thing is for sure - I'll definitely be listening. Matt Walters CEO, Spade Kitty Records March 15, 2008 ________________ http://www.spadekitty.com.