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King Dude - Full Virgo Moon

King Dude
Full Virgo Moon
by Kira Schlechter at 01 April 2020, 4:20 AM

Coming in at a smidge over half an hour, “Full Virgo Moon,” the eighth album by Gothic folk/country singer-instrumentalist KING DUDE – a k a T.J. Cowgill – wastes no time in becoming unlike almost anything you’ve ever heard before. KING DUDE performed, recorded, mixed, and mastered the album at his Seattle home and that feeling of isolation, either forced or desired, is apparent from the start. The instrumental introduction “A Shadow’s Theme” is sparse and cinematic, with barely-there drumming, drifts of electronica, and mere hints of a melody, establishing with its first notes that this is going to be a somber affair.

So does KING DUDE's tremulous, gravely voice, especially in the weary and aching “My Rose By the Sea (Satyr Boy).” The repetitive lyrics indicate the futility of his situation – he can’t help being enthralled by his love, good or bad, even though he knows it’s just about sex, hence the almost playful “satyr boy” reference.

His acoustic playing is evocative and desperately intimate in the waltzing title track – it does really sound like it’s just him in his living room. The album has a very “alone” sound, not depressed necessarily, just sounding like someone who has time to think in a very stream-of-consciousness way. The second verse is definitely open to multiple interpretation – is this a religious reference (“I gave to you a prophecy/You paid me in idolatry”), or is it about loss, like of a love, or a loss and a regaining of faith (when he says he’s “never alone”)?

His voice has a BOWIE quality at times and the songs do too in some ways. Many don’t really have a definitive beginning, middle, and end and they lack resolutions. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe the repetitive lyrics are also the point – they’re musings, those looping thoughts that go around your head in the situations he’s describing, why am I doing this, why do I keep doing this.

Several reviews have said the songs don’t seem complete, that they’re just ideas, and maybe, again, that’s the point – maybe he’s just throwing these ideas out for people, including himself, to mull over, not for the purpose of coming to a conclusion, but merely to air them out.

There are spots where he definitely tells a story, though. “Forty Fives Say Six Six Six” is reminiscent of the best JOHNNY CASH songs. KING DUDE's purr is mixed right in your ear, it’s sinister and raises your hackles, it’s seductive and alluring. This is a very traditional folk tale – the title refers to the lawless old character’s guns, of course (his .45s), and it tells of his amoral deeds (“don’t believe in the crucifix,” he says, as he’s “turning tricks of the devil into dollar signs”). KING DUDE's folk background is even more apparent when he turns the focus on himself, saying he’s no better than his character (“It ain’t the first time the devil’s been sold/How in the fuck do you think that I met these kids?” he sneers).

But “The Satanic Temple” is another musing, perhaps on the fickleness of art and of fans. When he says, “I’m like a mark/From Satan’s arm,” it’s like he’s bragging about his street cred in a way, but then he admits, “it don’t mean shit” and further acknowledges, “it don’t mean shit to the kids/Who all know they invented it,” like the kids aren’t impressed because they think they’re cooler, edgier, more unique.

Rooted in piano and cello, “Forgive My Sins” sounds like “The House of the Rising Sun” in a certain way, melodically and almost thematically as well. It’s meditative and slow, regretful but not really. The narrator has done something he shouldn’t have here and is looking for someone, God in particular, to shoulder the blame (“if the good Lord knows what’s good for him/He’d best forgive my sins,”  he threatens, and asks, “I could use a friend who’s selfless”), even while he admits to having done it (“if the devil’s hands/Are the hands of your own”).

“Make Me Blind” is kind of a twisted little nursery rhyme that questions the existence of an afterlife (“there is no sacrifice to to change my mind,” that is, the one Christ made, as Christians believe) and demands proof – “if you want to change my mind,” he dares, “all you’ve got to do is make me blind,” that is, don’t give me eyes to see the reality, which is nothing (after all, who knows what you see when you die). The abrupt end to the sing-song lyrics is chilling after he asks one last time, “Oh Death, you filthy whore … is that you that I hear knocking upon my door?”

“A Funeral Song for Atheists,” so hushed you can barely hear his words above the piano, is a continuation of “Make Me Blind,” with many of the same lyrics. One could almost imagine this is coming from “the other side” – he repeats, “there is no afterlife” almost to convince himself. The closer, the shimmering “Something About You,” has KING DUDE barely touching the guitar’s strings and barely singing, just offering washes of sound and melody and words.

Despite all the references to God and the devil – and despite King Dude’s reputation for what’s been called “Satanic folk” –  it seems this isn’t an overly religious, or even anti-religious, record. It is as amorphous and enigmatic as the musician is himself. Compelling and definitely disturbing in its way, this is dark music for dark times – open-ended, uncertain, unsettling.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 8
Memorability: 8
Production: 8

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Intro (A Shadow’s Theme)
2. My Rose By the Sea (Satyr Boy)
3. Full Virgo Moon
4. Forty Fives Say Six Six Six
5. The Satanic Temple
6. Forgive My Sins
7. Make Me Blind
8. A Funeral Song For Atheists
9. Something About You
Lineup:
TJ Cowgill
August Johnson
Lee Newman
Chris Costalupes
Garret Gonzales
Record Label: Van Records
     


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