The Crescent City is undergoing a golden age of musical burlesque theater, and no one is working harder at it, or arguably reaping greater benefits, than the Dirty Bourbon River Show: This latest studio album is their tenth in just seven years. And yet the formula never grows old, it just gets more refined, partly due no doubt to leader Noah Adams, who knows enough to keep this musical variety show as inclusive as possible. Part brass band funeral, part Balkan folk stomp, part funk throwdown, part Italian wedding, and all P. T. Barnum, the experience incorporates as many musical styles of a busy port town as possible. But there’s a difference this time out: Not only are these ten songs proof that the genres are all blending into one, and also evidence that they’re doing so more economically than ever (they’re stating their business in just about half an hour these days), but for the first time there’s a strong undercurrent of thoughtfulness. Melancholy, even.
Oh, the carnival is still loads of fun for real. “Roll It Around” and “My Name Is Soul” epitomize the leering, black comic pageantry of the band’s best work. But these days, the five guys at the heart of this dark carnival seem to have mortality, or at least regret, on their mind. The Flying Musical Circus is not quite a concept album about time travel—the plot’s pretty vague, suggesting mainly that time passes in the blink of an eye, especially when you’re having too much fun—but for the first time you feel the weight of the cosmic joke being played on us all. There are a few detours that’ll play as well with pop radio as they do with the red Solo cup crowd: “Poor Boy, Rich Girl” is pretty self-explanatory, and the leadoff single “Knockin’ on Your Headboard” might be the best song Sugar Ray never recorded. But in essence they tweak the formula just enough to keep it interesting—again. Yes, you have to appreciate a song like “Hidalgo’s Lament,” which starts with a man losing his arm in jail, but there’s no punchline. These days, DBRS seem to be saying, we’re our own.
Dirty Bourbon River Show performs on Saturday, April 29 at 5:30p on the Lagniappe Stage.