What the HELL is this?

The Strangest Album I Own

Merkin Records, 1990

As I flipped through the stack of records at the church rummage sale, I found one that caught my attention.  I’d never heard of the band and the cover didn’t offer a whole lot of clues as to what exactly was contained within these grooves, but I could afford to take a chance for a quarter.  It would be a week before I’d find the time to put it on. And I still recall what my wife said as I stared at the spinning turntable in astonished disbelief; “Are you mad at me?”

What came out of the speakers was really hard to define at first. A jarring, mix of hollerin’ and hiccup vocals dominated the tracks which are best described as hoedown dance music. It was Appalachian style hillbilly music so raw and unpolished you can practically hear the rosin scraping off the bow onto the fiddle strings.  The vocals you can follow along with on a lyric sheet thoughtfully provided on the inner sleeve. And still I was really confused as to what exactly I was listening to.

The opening track, “Serpentine” gives us this lyrical nugget to sing along to and/or contemplate:

“Between the anus and the genitalia

Reptile eyes glisten and shine

Reptile brain wants evolution

From abyss unconscious mind- Sepentine

Honestly, If I EVER took notice of reptile eyes lurking or even just hangin’ out between the anus and the genitalia of anybody, I think that date would end immediately. I’m pretty open-minded, but I don’t think I’d even try to make an excuse, like, “You’re a swell gal, but I forgot I have a meeting in the morning,” or, “I left a cake in the oven. Gotta go.” Just having my car keys in hand would suffice. What kind of specialist do you refer someone with this condition to?

I’ll reserve judgment as to whether or not this is a good or bad examples of this kind of music, as I wouldn’t be able to tell the two apart. I’m the same way with hip hop. I don’t get it and probably never will.

I’ve played this album more than you’d think. Usually it comes out when I have some other vinyl collector over. I use it as my trump card. Proof positive I own something stranger than they ever imagined possible. I know you know people that keep weird pets who eat strange things and this was my musical equivalent of a Hissing Madagascar Cockroach. Thankfully, it requires less maintenance.

Like an art film I don’t quite understand the meaning of, this album raises a lot of questions I’m not readily able to answer. The term “Bardo” pops up several times throughout the disc. I had to Google the word to make heads or tails of it. Literally, bardo means an “intermediate state” and is also translated as “transitional state” or “in-between state.” And Lambs Eat Ivy use the term as “Bardo bush,” which doesn’t bring up any thing last time I checked.

I’ve never spent a whole lot of time contemplating the space between the “anus and the genitalia,” but even on a big person, I don’t see how it can be thought of as a state. Not even a small one likeRhode Island. The album says the band or at least the label is fromBaltimore,Maryland. Clearly if this was a weird backhanded reference toBaltimore, John Waters would have used it as a central theme to at least one of his films.

Which leads to another head scratcher; how do a bunch of collegiate looking types end up combining Buddhist philosophy and Eastern mysticism with music to slaughter pigs to?

There’s a picture of the trio performing on a large stage, presumably a theater, making me think this was a college project of some sort.  Surely not a well considered commercial endeavor.

There’s a phone number on the back cover of the LP, for booking information. This leads to yet another important question. What kind of venue/party exactly is this kind of music appropriate for? Who wants to knockback a couple of cold ones while listening to this backwoods caterwauling/spiritual combination? I finally called the number, unsure of what I would be asking about a record 21 years old. No one answered as the number had been disconnected.

On the cover there are two women and a man dressed in, uh, they look like they’re in the process of getting dressed for a vaudeville revival show of some sort. Michael Willis has a great head of hair and art house turned trucker sideburns, E. Elizabeth Downing is wearing what looks like a paper mache-pinata Carnival inRioversion of Madonna’s cone bra; but it’s Nancy Andrews who owns the picture. She cradles her violin as though it were a child, sports owlish school marm glasses and displays a generous amount of cleavage, while wearing a hoop skirt topped off with a hair bow the size of a schnauzer. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the thought process on the entire package. Somebody spent some money on the printing because it’s in both color and black and white. There are still so many unanswered questions.

I currently own about 1000 records and another thousand CD’s. This one holds a special place in my heart, but not for any obvious reasons. Like when survivors of a horrible tragedy or accident recall a moment during their ordeal with humor and mirth, Lambs Eat Ivy is something I feel compelled to hold onto. Most likely it will probably never leave my permanent collection. Be forewarned, if we’re ever hanging out in my living room, there’s a good chance this will be added to the musical rotation. It’s something I only share with people I like. Really.

I double dog dare you to listen to Lambs Eat Ivy performing Serpentine:http://sugarfreak.typepad.com/files/serpentine.m4a

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