Royal Fingerbowl's Greyhound Afternoons

Greyhound Afternoons

LeisureSuit by Jordan Hoffman

Okay, I'm going to write a review of the latest Royal Fingerbowl album without mentioning Tom Waits.

Okay, I can't.

Yes, Royal Fingerbowl sound like Tom Waits. Particularly the Tom Waits of the "Heartattack and Vine" period. The vocals are scratchy, the band is scruffy, the lyrics are triumphantly low-rent. "Happy Birthday, Sabo!!" Royal Fingerbowl's debut of a few years back, was played a lot for guests of Casa de Hoffman, and everyone wanted to know where I scored those unreleased Waits tapes. It was a great album, filled with faux-schmaltzy ballads (like the one that goes "Oh, I wish I was in old Manahawkin', on that train bridge walkin', over to yooooooooooou") and goofy comedy ("A Month of Sundays," dedicated to a youngster's summer break replete with references to "snots.")

Now we've got their follow-up. Does it survive the sophomore jinx? Well, not really. But that may just be because their debut was just so frickin' strong.

The album opens well, with the goofy "Fine-Ass Chemise," which vocalist/songwriter Alex McMurray delightfully pronounces "Shmeeze." The next cut, "Bandrowski's Turban" is an example of what doesn't really work here. With plenty of funky organs and quasi-Arabic phrases, McMurray tries to paint a Waits-ish portrait of a groovy person. Problem is, it isn't all that fascinating (save for the line "Bandrowski's turban has come unglued, see it dangle in his vindiloo") and the slow-as-sludge funk.

To focus on the positive, the lovely ballad "Blurry," tackles the settin' on this stoop, watching the world weariness and really nails it. Surprising use of the sharp electric guitar keeps it original, and adds a unique contrast to the lonely piano-man keys and blues-y acoustic. Also, "Long, Tall, Cool" is a fine drunkards singalong, worthy of any "Fat City" bar that would be mythically perfect to sing it.

"Los Peregrinitos," has that sloppy, 2 AM barfly (or is it Trees Lounge) bravura of a dumb guy who thinks he's Frank Sinatra. The guitar is fuzzy and upfront. The horns are soft and probably in key. The performance is top notch – man he'll have a headache tomorrow. These highlights don't keep the album from being a disappointment, however. Most of the other tracks just sound like Springsteen's "Darkness on the Edge of Town" with some put-on irony.

So maybe the Royal Fingerbowl, like the Squirrel Nut Zippers before them, really only had one good album in them. Or maybe, and the smart money is on this alternative, I'd feel a whole hell of a lot different about this record if I had a half dozen Budweisers in me.