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David E Williams - Banana Peel Slips On Itself

Banana Peel Slips On Itself enters to the pulsing electronics of 'Song About Being a Foot' on which David E. Williams ruminates about life as a foot. The flourishes of big orchestrations that surround his voice only hint at what is to come on this, David E. Williams' eighth full-length album. It's an album that veers from the absurd to the poignant, the humorous to the serious, with that by now necessary grief song. He's still taking songwriting to the extremes. Who else writes songs about being a foot, catching a cold, a sad hat, a clambake or even your beloved pet devouring your dead body. Those in the know, will appreciate that this isn't unusual in the world of David E. Williams but the unaccustomed may want to take a deep breath before embarking on this. But embark on this they should as beyond the croaking voice and apparent whimsy is a unique talent that finds sadness in the most unlikeliest of subjects and situations placing them within songs featuring great arrangements formed largely from piano and keyboard arrangements that draw on orchestral, soundtracks, ambient, folk and prog-rock. I guarantee, you've never heard anything like it.

'Marquis de Sade was a Sadist' is one of David E. Williams catchy pop numbers the arrangements fleshed out with scraping guitar chords and populated by some savoury and unsavoury characters providing an alternate history of personality quirks and fetishes. You might already know the Marquis de Sade was a sadist and that Mohammed Ali was the greatest but I bet you didn't know some of the things that David E. Williams reveals about Hitler, Martin Luther, Edith Stein, or what George Bataille did with that eye or even how LBJ conducted business. Find out here while singing along to this fun-filled outsider pop number. Education has never been so much fun!

It's not all strange humorous songs about historical figures though. In sombre and portentous piano chords, 'Margaret Sanger Lives in Heaven' delivers a wicked biographical sketch of the long dead birth control activist. Accompanied by piercing scales which bring out the horror element of the story it is poignant and timely since, even as I write this review, Margaret Sanger's name is being removed from buildings and streets due to her advocacy of eugenic science. But let's not get too political as in this one she gets reunited with the children she aborted in those clinics she founded which were "murder factories for modest means and even smaller for children of three inches with no need for growing taller". Already one of my favourite David E. Williams' numbers, it's sure to be regarded as another classic. Over the years David E. Williams has penned numerous real and imagined biographical pieces and a compendium of these would be most welcome.

'The Clambake at the End of the World', follows unfurling to atmospheric synths and bleepy electronics. Don't worry though, he's not gone techno. This is a climate change warning doled out in rhyming lyrics about a clambake and crab hatting (answers on a postcard, please?) in New York. And a chlamydia ridden oyster, a dog with a cold and a toaster seeking loaf of bread.

And as offbeat as that one sounds David E. Williams has an uncanny ability to catch you off guard with wonderful sensitive arrangements topped off by ludicrous lyrics. Here on 'Chiropractor Arrives by Helicopter' it comprises fluttering rhythms, atmospheric synths and gentle melodic piano chords and then comes the lyrics, frustratingly brief, about a flying chiropractor who arrives in tragedy, and then as tragedy, continually repeated as if piling on the pain, slipping into an extended movement expressing his keyboard dexterity. His virtuosity is also on show on 'Unworthy of Love' which is awash with orchestral arrangements and sweeping electronic effects as he breathlessly sings about love as a drug, and an addict overdosed on unexpected affection. It's a case of love kills, soundtracked by a discordant symphony.

The album is peppered with shorter tracks too like 'Sun Cracks Through Black Cotton', a brief absurd vignette delivered in harsh sneering tones over elasticated scales and hammering beats and the queasy nightime dream of 'I Dreamed I Caught a Cold' where tones grate and buzz over an airy drone and chiming piano notes as Williams' feverish croak, is overlapped, as it all gently coalesces into a subdued atmospheric piece. Plunging into a charming grand piano score 'Three Brown Liquids', perhaps the best of these shorter tracks, sets the scene for a tale around a trinity of liquids, the first being urine, the second petrol before it evolves into a solo ensemble interlude, if that's even a thing, before revealing the third to be champagne to be shared with his enemies.

"I may be a rat but you are the sinking ship, and it's better to be a rat than be a sinking ship" David E. Williams sings solo, and later in massed voices, on 'I May Be a Rat' as it plays out like a traditional folk number with its pipe like arrangement augmented by some wonderful keyboard passages. Lyrically this ties up disasters like the Hindenburg with doomed seafaring vessels such as the Titanic, the Lusitania and Wilhelm Gustloff as well as water based viruses almost making this a sort of death ballad. That folk tinged sound continues on 'Pets Will Eat Their Owners' with its trumpet sounding keys and majestic airy chords which made me think of something like Paul Ferris's soundtrack to Witchfinder General. A cautionary tale to pet owners, swelling into an action packed soundtrack styled finale.

I've said before that David E. Williams works at the extremes of the American Songbook but on Banana Peel Slips On Itself which features a wonderful commissioned Jim Ether painting on the cover based on a scene from a Laurel and Hardy film avoids the standards for a more obscure track. And while an earlier track referenced Tod Browning's notorious film Freaks, 'One Meatball' goes back even further to the era of Tin Pan Alley in a cover version of a 1940s folk song about a poor diner and an intimidating waiter. Longtime collaborator Jerome Deppe makes an appearance here taking lead vocals, backed-up by Williams, over a sustained quivering drone, served with chiming chords, electronic barps and squiggles and a side dish of moving symphonic arrangements. It might sound humorous but this is a great choice and a timely ballad for austere times such as these.

It's fair to say that David E. Williams songs are filled with a lot of life's absurdities and are often quite oddball and a lot is written about the sick and depraved characters that populate his songs but when he turns his hand to the tragic he captures a sense of grief that always moves me. This time, it's there in 'Lou Gehrig'. Over sombre chords and sorrowful notes in heartfelt and mournful voice David E. Williams delivers excerpts from the valedictory speech of the baseball player forced into retirement after a terminal diagnosis. "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth" he announces amidst sombre piano surrounded by organ flourishes. Heartbreaking and beautiful, this is David E. Williams at his most affecting. It's up there with 'Save A Chair For Jennifer' and 'Turn Off All the Very Hot Things' high points, or perhaps they should be low points given their subject matter, from his earlier albums.

The closing 'Somber Sombrero' does little to lighten the mood, it being another mournful number, this time about a sad hat, which with its lyric about "pitiful pants" which are, "are just simpering slacks, over socks, yearning for shoes" takes us back to the beginning and 'Song About Being a Foot'. That's something which not many albums can do.

There's no doubt that David E. Williams has a unique ability to extract a sense of sadness from the most unlikely of subjects and situations, all wrapped up in moving and sympathetic arrangements. Banana Peel Slips On Itself is another great release from David E. Williams. Oddball, outsider or whatever, David E. Williams presents the strangeness of things with a neat line in tunes. I've been singing his praises for years and surely that's recommendation enough? Banana Peel Slips On Itself is available digitally and on CD from David E. Williams bandcamp while European readers can pick up the CD from Old Europa Cafe