Los Angeles’ Congo Norvell, the namesake partnership of guitarist Kid Congo Powers (Cramps, Gun Club, Bad Seeds) and singer Sally Norvell (Prohibition), is said to have begun at the deathbed of a mutual friend. After that dramatic beginning, the two set about assembling a band of eccentrics that, by its very nature, would produce eccentric music. So far, so good.
The Lullabies EP is so quiet it nearly lives up to its title, but the four torch songs and druggy apostrophes would not inspire very sweet dreams. Space is a primary instrument, and the songs are filled with emptiness, setting the melodies against vast silences that give them even more of a desperate feel than Norvell’s melodramatic way with a melody. “Lullaby” and a cover of Crime and the City Solution’s “Angel” are the most successful tracks.
By contrast, Music to Remember Him By is a cabaret show. Norvell’s throaty voice and anthemic phrasings are enough to make Helen Merrill fans weak at the knees as Powers’ spaghetti western guitar lines play off the theatrical keyboard stylings by Kristian Hoffman (relocated from New York, where he led the Swinging Madisons and played in the Lance Loud-led Mumps) and spare percussion (bongos are a favorite) by drummer Joseph Berardi (James White, Stan Ridgway). Considering all the elements at work, the music is spectacularly understated, allowing Norvell to take a star turn. Alone in the spotlight, she radiates heartache in “My Midnight” and “Drift Away,” hitting every note like a spurned housewife drunk on cooking sherry and Jackie Collins. The postmodern coffee-house feel is, at times, an uncomfortably kitschy mix, but it’s creepy and compelling just the same.
The Knoxville Girls was something of a scum-rock supergroup, containing as it did Powers, Bob Bert (ex-Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore and Bewitched) and Jerry Teel (Honeymoon Killers, Boss Hog). In the Woodshed is a live disc.