London-based trio Marseille Figs 'first full-length album includes an engaging country-skiffle song in which frontman J. Maizlish muses upon the efficacy of chat-up lines uttered by Don Juan, Casanova and Romeo. The California-born Maizlish is dismissive of their bon mots, but he can't help but envy the trio's "bed them, then breakfast with them skills": "Any such crap/ man they had it on tap/ and it was 'Honey How You Like Your Eggs?'" he sings.
Such playfulness is a staple of the Figs 'approach, but elsewhere on their bluegrass, avant-garde jazz and Klezmer-influenced record the humour is darker. "Caesar's Revenge," kicking-off with filthy, rasping sax, soon evolves into an episodic tale of a wilful, ill-starred misfit, its titular hero showing no remorse when he eventually bites back. Bible black, Southern Gothic in flavour and communicated with maximum drama and relish, it's the kind of song that would sit nicely on Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds 1992 album Henry's Dream.
Maizlish handles vocals, guitar and ukulele on The Dirty Canon, and has able foils in multi-instrumentalists Dorian McFarland (accordion, mouth-harp etc.) and Tom Chant (saxophones, clarinet and keyboards). This core trio is joined by a rhythm section comprising drummer Jack Brennan and double-bassist John Edwards, and the album's forthright, 'live in the studio 'feel was mostly nailed in Hamburg, Germany with Jem Finer of the Pogues and "Lousiana swamp-pop legend" DM Bob sharing production duties.
Chant's outlandish freak out sax solos on songs such as "Skin & Bones" are most welcome, while Maizlish's voice, capable of everything from a hillbilly yodel to a snazzy jazz-blues wail, knows no half-measures. The group's name, in case you were wondering, probably derives from the fact that Maizlish and McFarland are also visual artists who once exhibited at the same show in Marseille. Their restless creativity is well to the fore on The Dirty Canon, an eclectic and winningly irreverent album that only a fool would attempt to categorize.