By Natalya Jones
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Professional and competent, if somewhat misdirected, The Last Place on Earth might be a much more enjoyable affair if the songs weren't stocked with so many trite lyrics: "The sky is falling/How appalling/ Man can become" joins the list of well-intentioned poetry unlikely to become a new environmental mantra. (www.geocities.com/thebandhello)
Bill and John Storch are Lake Worth composer-performers known primarily for their work in the electronic-music realm, specifically electronic music commissioned for modern dance. So it's completely unexpected to see the Brothers Storch delve into acoustic-bluegrass songs on The Cat's Outta the Bag, which was casually recorded with friends under the name Hillbilly Heart. The two oversee the project from the background, contributing guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion, and dobro, but leave the songwriting and singing chores in the hands of capable associates.
The Cat's Outta the Bag is a knee-slapping harmonica hoedown, with its central theme driven home over the course of its 15 songs: desertin', two-timin' women doin' men wrong. Jeff Merchling delivers his share of the tunes in a sleepy drawl, while Marc Ward's voice is as gritty as drain cleaner. Although the two shuttle between rustic blues-rock and twisted prairie folk, the topic remains constant. "You said you'd go down on me tomorrow," Ward sulks on the very first song. "Then you snuck off for weeks!"
Other notable moonshine-and-mandolinfueled ditties include the scruffy "Texas Rocks," with muscular harmony vocals from Nifa Scraggins, and "Everybody Said," a self-determination doctrine that counsels a wayward chum to "Get down off your high horse/Your head out of your ass..../You're worrying too much about what everybody said." Straight from the still, "Alice (First Storm of the Season)" compares a feisty female companion to a hurricane: "She never bored me, but man, she could sure inflict pain." Faraway harmonies on "One Way Out" give the tune a lonely, mountain-town sound.
Quite a departure from the thumping, digitized domain the Storches usually inhabit, Hillbilly Heart is more likely to be embraced by fans of Wilco or early Dylan. But The Cat's Outta the Bag goes further than just showing the duo's wide range. It seems no one involved with the record took the process too seriously, and that gives it an authenticity money can't buy.