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Tall Dwarfs - Fork Songs / Dogma

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Artist: Tall Dwarfs

Album: Fork Songs / Dogma

Label: Cloud Recordings

Review date: Dec. 6, 2005

When it first came out in 1992, Fork Songs started off the Tall Dwarfs' second decade on a high note. At the time, the world seemed to be coming around to Chris Knox and Alec Bathgate's way of thinking. The New Zealanders had spent the ’80s recording EPs at home on a 4-track tape machine, which made them forerunners of the lo-fi craze. The big difference between the Dwarfs and their acolytes was talent and inspiration, and Fork Songs overflows with it. Each song sets a lacerating lyric and an insistent hook to an idiosyncratic but entirely a propos arrangement.

Opener "Dare To Tread" pairs a sputtering three-peas-in-a-box beat (until recently, the duo routinely crafted their own rhythm loops from voices and household objects) with stacks of stirring, anthemic guitars that lift up Knox's ambivalent analysis of seductive corruption with the fervor of Brazilian soccer fans hoisting the winning team onto their shoulders. Skip forward a couple tunes and Bathgate takes the mic for "Wings," a yearning folk tune replete with wheezing accordion and sweet slide guitar licks and a lyric that explores the way spiritual aspirations frustrate human connections. "Lowland" is a sputtering acoustic reggae-blues tune about incestuous small-town paranoia.

When Fork Songs first came out, there was a backlog of vinyl-only Tall Dwarfs material, so the 1988 EP Dogma was tacked on, and this reissue follows suit. This was a rare experiment with "outside" musicians (actually bassist Paul Keen and drummer Mike Dooley, who had played with Bathgate and Knox in the punk band Toy Love) and an actual studio. Neither variation makes a huge difference; the grooves are a bit denser, but still sound like they came out of a tool shed. The centerpiece here is "Lurlene Bayliss," which pairs spoken word and rattling percussion to tell a shaggy dog tale that argues for tolerance of mental illness.

By Bill Meyer

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