Banana Gun’s The Elephant In The Room

Cover Artwork by Eric Palmer

Music For Your Soul To Roll In

The first time I ever heard Banana Gun I was driving down the road jamming to The Morning Infidelity on 106.7 KWSS—“Light On” blew through my speakers and I damn near wrecked my Jeep, I had to pull into a grocery store parking lot to hear the whole thing. My mind was blown, right there and then—it was brilliant, unusual and to boot, it sported a banjo. Somehow, previous to that aural epiphany I had missed out on Banana Gun, I had always been at another show or missed their set or unintentionally dodged them in one way or another. After that morning, I made it my mission to catch these cats live and catch myself up on what I had been missing. Over the last year, it’s been an enriching and rewarding experience catching ever show of theirs that I can, while studying their songs and listening to the growth with each passing show. Their gigs are pretty amazing experiences and what’s more is the members of Banana Gun seem to truly be having an amazing time doing what they do best, which is  to  say blowing the collective minds of the audience and quickly getting people dancing to their eclectic musical stylings. Needless to say, it was with eager anticipation that I have awaited the arrival of The Elephant In The Room.

Banana Gun is the combined efforts of Kevin Lloyd (vocals, guitar, banjo), Nic Dehaan (guitar, vocals), Ross Toost (bass), Kyle Scarborough (sax,vocals) and Ian Breslin (drums). In the making of the new album, they followed the advice of friends Japhy’s Descent and turned to STEM Recording and producer Curtis Grippe, of whom they could not sing enough praises about and in listening to the album, it’s easy to see why. Grippe has a way of allowing the artists to be themselves and recording them in such a way that what you hear on record is the closest it can possibly come to in how they sound live. The proof however, is in the pudding and upon listening to it, the results are pretty clear.

Starting off with lyricless vocal harmonies reminiscent of the Beach Boys, before kicking in the amplification, “First Time” is a 90 second slice of Americana pie that opens up the album, with slight hints at doo wop leanings that will reappear later. “Shake” has become a live favorite, something that sets the crowd on fire as the band goes deep into crazy on the stage: “I start to moan, you start to shake,” with opening lyrics like that you can see why the crowd goes crazy. On “Paper Cuts” the searing guitarwork of Lloyd and Dehaan is becoming a signature sound in the best way possible, another crowd favorite and one that harkens back to rock records from the 1970s, perhaps by happenstance or brilliant design—maybe it’s Scarborough’s saxophone or the funky groove of Toost’s amazing base, something makes it instantly vintage, that is to say something of a classic.

“Blue Sky” opens up the sound on the album even  wider, the harder guitars shy away to a swaying way of sweeping away even the most distant listener into slowly swaying and clapping right along—the Americana vibe comes through in dripping hints of Mellencamp with brilliant effect. Another foot stomper, “Easy on the Eyes” is probably one of their greatest songs, on the  record or stage and one the crowd is very nearly rabid about, rightfully so—it’s four minutes of perfection in all  capacities, brilliant guitar breaks on a sweet chorus departure, while the rest of the song explodes around the sentimentality. The striking contrast of the country tinged “Devil’s Daughter” with steel guitar in tow, is astounding, though at this point it becomes apparent on the album that Banana Gun defies genre as well as they do at their gigs—which is an interesting point, because they cover so much musical territory it seems astounding that they still have a consistent sound. While one moment they are playing 70s rock, the next classic country, the next indie rock…no matter what they do, they still sound like Banana Gun.

In this case after their country departure they break into “Trouble” where, the bass, sax and especially Breslin’s drums really come to their own, the song also seems to be a community affair featuring vocals from Future Loves Past and contributions from a few other friends. It’s also one of the great moments where Lloyd really lets loose on his vocals right before a seething guitar solo and the combination of those two events make the song one of the absolute highlights of the album. Then when the guitar starts to sound like Ry Cooder and the vocals break into an homage to Tom Waits, while SugarThieves’ Mikel Lander’s dobro comes in, well it takes it over the top in your consciousness and becomes too good to convey through  words. “May June July” kicks in with the banjo and Banana Gun brings it all in on what sounds like a down home, good feeling jam that is steeped in southern bluegrass traditions. After the intensity of the previous track, this song always feels so good on the ears that I can’t help but smile during the entire thing, it also happen to be the lyrical source for the album’s title. Another banjo number, “Attic” keeps the cool backwoods groove going, but when the guitars charge in and Lloyd’s vocals turn a bit vicious, it’s a complete game changer and the entire effect is almost haunting.

Photo by Russ Chlebenski

If there’s such a thing as a stylistic departure for Banana Gun, “Nightcrawler” is it—something that comes on as almost doo-wop mixed with only a hint of their patented roots rock. Lloyd delivers some of the sweetest vocals of the entire affair, ensconced in lush harmonies and laid out into a beautiful ode to a time long lost. The roots rock comes on full strength in the amazing and single worthy “Martyrs & Vultures” –“Good morning all you martyrs, yearning to be free, this won’t be the last you ever see me” the song says as steel guitar weaves within the varying spaces allowed for it. It’s another brilliant Americana number that screams for late loud plays on hot nights around a swimming pool with plenty of brews to be had: “When all hope is lost or all good man are overcome by greed, like the monsters appetite you know they feel the urge to feed, you know they want to rob us blind, well tell them everything is free, oh, but this won’t be the last time you ever see me.” Owing as much to the likes of Gram Parsons time with the Byrds as to the lyrical pace that would match Bob Dylan at his peak—simply brilliant. “Sleeping Giant” is another number that recalls doo-wop and early rock straight out of the 1950s, and a number that seems to have developed a fervent following at their shows—everything is in the right place, whether it’s the ascending guitar chords, the perfect sax and Lloyd’s vocals superbly stealing the show. It’s much more than a genre piece and I dare anyone to attempt to do it better, unless perhaps you’re David Bowie doing “Drive In Saturday.”

The spare banjo intro for “Hal” leaves the listener unsuspecting about what is about to  happen to their mind once the song kicks completely into gear, as it builds, instrument, by instrument until the banjo gets lost and the song comes completely into itself. It is the longest song on the album and it is a face melting bit of musical and studio extravagance that stands apart from nearly all of the other tracks for the sheer territory it covers in a sonic sense. “Not Dead Yet” is another stylistic anomaly that recalls an era that precedes rock’n’roll, part marching band, part ukulele, part xylophone—the unique blend of instruments recalls the circus or parks of yesteryear, from the very beginning with the crackle of vinyl on what sounds like an ancient record player to the very end, the song is transportational to simpler days in simpler times. The album finishes on one of their finest banjo laden, roots rock numbers with “Upset”, a swooning, lazy day song that finishes with nearly the same harmonies where this journey began, completing the circle of this beautiful departure.

In the silence that follows the end of the album, your ears, your mind, your spirit are left a bit reeling, a feeling that you’ve just been privy to something quite special and unique. Banana Gun is one of the best bands in town, just based on their first album and live performances they have developed a huge and deserved following. The Elephant In The Room, however, seriously raises the bar for not only the band themselves, but for anyone else releasing an album this year. It is a fifteen song ecstatic collection of eclecticism is sound and vision, rethinking Americana, roots music and rock’n’roll itself, recombining the very DNA of great American music from across the entirety of the 20th century. This album is yet another highwater mark in the growing catalog of local music masterpieces that are deeply in need of national release. Simply stated, The Elephant In The Room is something special, beautiful and brilliant, soothing and invigorating, recalling influences and taking brave steps toward oft forgotten musical territory, yet never stepping out of pace with their signature sound. The album like the band itself is something quite special indeed. This is music for your soul to roll in and for your mind to run free.

Buy The Elephant In The Room On iTunes
Listen To Banana Gun on Reverbnation
See Banana Gun This Friday At The Sail Inn!