A couple years ago, husband-and-wife duo Grace & Tony blew me away with their “November” debut album. Their intoxicating mix of punk, folk, bluegrass and Texas swing — which they dubbed “punkgrass” — was just what the doctor ordered and I played that record pretty much non-stop for several months. Even now, “November” is a platter I revisit every couple weeks and I never get tired of listening to it.
And though I’ve been eagerly awaiting album No. 2, I confess that a part of me wondered if Grace and Tony White would be able scale those heights again. Well, after about a dozen spins of sophomore set “Phantasmagoric” I’m happy to report that Grace & Tony have done it again. This 10-track release is every bit as good as its predecessor and cements the duo’s place on my shortlist of favorite artists.
“We wanted to make something truly different,” Tony says of the new release. “Something memorable. We really wanted to blaze trails — and make music that we would enjoy, with lots of layers, that would be as pleasing to the mind as it is to the ear.”
There are some sinister influences at work on “Phantasmagoric.” Lid-lifter “Adam of Labour” is told from the perspective of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster and “Lullaby of the Red Death” owes a debt of gratitude to Edgar Allan Poe. In “Invitation to an Autopsy,” Grace narrates the true story of two pre-Victorian era murderers who sold corpses for use in anatomy classes and “The Marsten Prologue” and “A Lot Dies Today” are based on the Stephen King novel “Salem’s Lot.”
Not every song on “Phantasmagoric” is morbid, however. Grace & Tony share their love story on the terrific “072713,” their wedding date, and that adds some needed light to the dark subject matter. I can’t wait to see what they come with next. (Jeffrey Sisk)