Blackwater Jukebox is an experimental folk group based in Los Angeles. The band leader appears to be Geordie McElroy, who sings and plays acoustic guitar, banjo and keyboards. I call McElroy the leader because the band’s Instagram page contains videos where he appears up front as a wild performance artist with a passing resemblance to Ed Sanders or John Prine. There’s also countless photos of McElroy drinking in his apartment outdoor jacuzzi, which makes me wonder if this whole idea came from hanging out back there every chance he gets. Make no mistake: this is a one-joke record, but the joke is pretty good… or at least, quite unusual.
McElroy explains that Hot Tub Homicides is “…an update on classic murder ballads with a jacuzzi twist,” and the band itself has been called "the Indiana Jones of ethnomusicology.” Other members include Burly Temple (background vocals/electric guitar), Sara K (vocals), and three drummers: Cassidy Byars, Jim Dooley and Juan Rubio. Each song on this album is a jacuzzi-inspired riff on another song. The finished collection was mastered by Dave Lopez.
“Black Cat Bone” begins the set with a reworking of “Eggs & Marrowbone,” a traditional folk song about a wife’s attempted blinding of her husband. Blackwater’s version is a bouncy B-52’s style rave-up with McElroy’s lead vocals never taking a break for air. In this case the husband is being poisoned with black cat bone, then left to cook in the jacuzzi.
“Big Dog” sounds even more like the B-52’s, especially “Rock Lobster.” Again we have an array of tribal beats, spooky voodoo guitars, cheesy keyboards and McElroy’s insistent vocals. This song was inspired by an ancient gospel tune most recently covered by Alison Krauss. The chorus is especially catchy: “Big dog, big dog, let’s go down / down to the river to pray.”
“Cabana Boy” turns the Bob Dylan tune “Love Henry” into an ominous tale of jacuzzi adultery and murder. Creepy keyboards and cannibalistic drums predominate while McElroy pontificates like a corrupt preacher.
“Jacques Uzi” (check the pun!) is a highly recognizable take off on “Mack The Knife.” There’s an element of deranged klezmer music with wild drums and even five-string banjo. Apparently this weird tale of Nazi hunting has received a lot of attention; it’s clearly the hit of this album and the funniest iteration of the central idea.
“Broadwater Sea” is a riff on “Pretty Polly,” an Appalachian murder ballad once covered by The Byrds. This track’s a more traditional rock tune that could pass for a hit in some quarters, featuring a driving rock rhythm and some of McElroy’s best singing. Sarah K adds fine background vocals.
The final song is “Jet Set Yvette” which McElroy calls “misogynistic trash.” The jacuzzi imagery is strong in this one, along with the most tribal-sounding drums yet, plus native yodeling and stabbing digital strings. A great upbeat conclusion.
So there you have it: six murder ballads set in jacuzzis. Fans of The Fugs, Mothers, B-52’s, or other offbeat bands might really enjoy these guys.
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