The Man on the Burning Tightrope

Firewater's Tod Ashley has a bone to pick with the world, but what separates him from lots of grouchy, angst-filled, ax-grinding guys is the wit and inventive style he brings to the table. Singer/bassist Tod A (as he is generally known) previously fronted NYC's abrasive, sample-driven noise- rockers Cop Shoot Cop, which Firewater resembles not at all. This here is a melodic, eclectic lot, conjuring the phantasmagoric mystery of Steely Dan adapting the Tom Waits and Nick Cave songbooks to perform at Jewish and Slavic weddings.

The joys of Burning Tightrope are many and varied: The brash, quasi-big band jazz burlesque of "The Vegas Strip"; the slinky, Afro-Cuban and tango-accented "Too Much (Is Never Enough)," which somewhat recalls War in its "Low Rider" glory days (an extremely good thing); and the sardonic title track, which opens with the nudge/wink fatalism of "Once upon a time there was a happy-ever-after to this story/But you won't hear one today," set to a queasy, florid, mock-cheery carnival melody. Tod A's raspy vocals are charged with a gleeful, old-school theatricality, and his scorn goes down so much easier than that of many of his contemporaries because he's self-aware and very funny. The rest of the guys acquit themselves admirably, scoring their mini-musicals with horns, accordion, and spidery, twang-laden, and judiciously distorted electric guitars, utilizing Hebraic and Eastern European melodic motifs and Latin rhythms. Much like that man on the tightrope, Firewater balances elegance and flamboyance to maintain your enthralled attention.


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