God save the Dirty Bourbon River Show. You expect them to title their seventh release proper with Volume Four in the same way you expect their wacky, shabby vaudeville carnival to smack you out of nowhere with the most dramatic blend of klezmer, soca, Neopolitan pop, and gypsy jazz before downshifting into familiar rock and NOLA-legacy territory. A band this conceptual and dependent on the efficacy of its live show shouldn’t be this fun on record, but number seven (or four, or what have you) sounds tighter, surer and more breathlessly insane than ever.
If you haven’t been converted, try and imagine Mike Patton leading Squirrel Nut Zippers into the depths of anti-pop but with a decidedly local flavor. The Dirty Bourbons deal in scenes rather than songs and “Mama, I’ve Been Abducted by Creatures of an Unholy Sound!” is as good a place to start as any, with its old-world lament juiced up with punky spirit and delivered with the kind of comic noir Tom Waits dished out in the ’70s. “Jewish Girls Who Went to Art School Know All the Angles”—those are most of the lyrics right there, and the rest are unprintable—takes their signature sound into white-funk territory, capped off with a falsetto that makes it the funniest Prince song since Bill Clinton took office. “Dear Grandma” is a New Orleans Piano clinic and “Ode to Sophia Loren” is lopsided zydeco—but both suddenly erupt into gospel workouts. And just when you think they’ve taken their hipster brand too seriously, working a rock version of “March of the Gladiators” into “Chromatic Circus Fantasy,” Dirty River Bourbon Show turn around and deliver “I Need Your Love,” the most genuine swamp-pop ballad anyone’s written in years. Noah Adams sings his ass off and if he accidentally reveals so much of himself that he feels compelled to follow it with “Honey, You Ain’t Gonna Be the One I Love,” well, then so be it. The show must go on.