The whimsical intelligence of Tom Lehrer, the Smothers Brothers and other jokey troubadours of ’60s folk found a brief resting place in this acoustic Toronto quartet. Formed at university and initially highbrow a cappella street buskers, Moxy Früvous followed the career lead of the city’s Barenaked Ladies, debuting with a self-released cassette that made them the toast of lighthearted Canada. But while both groups have a folky underpinning, an occasional resemblance to the harmony-pop side of Squeeze and the temerity to write completely ridiculous songs, the resemblance ends there, as Moxy Früvous is not inclined to the other’s pandering stupidity and, for one album anyway, did a better job avoiding sappy inward reflection.
With several of them remakes from the cassette, the deftly structured songs on Bargainville are often overbearingly cute (“Stuck in the 90’s,” which stoops to the pitiful rhyme “Join the parade, wave the flag, tell the world it’s your lackey/Abbie Hoffman was wacky”) or sensitive (“Gulf War Song”), but just as frequently compulsively clever and thoroughly charming (see “Video Bargainville,” “My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors” and “King of Spain,” which explains how the fallen monarch wound up working in a Pizza Pizza). Guitarist Mike Ford, bassist Murray Foster, drummer Jean Ghomeshi and guitarist/accordionist David Matheson arrange their pleasant voices in wonderful harmonies, elevating the music with genial spirit.
Wood chucks all of that out by the barn, reinventing the band as serious folk-pop mush-kateers, a latter-day acoustic America (perhaps they’ll change the now-cumbersome Moxy moniker to Canada). The sweet singing and a hint of wit faintly echo Bargainville, but you’d never recognize the quaint old place in the slick shopping mall built on its foundation.