Ray Bradbury (Dark Carnival)
Band members Related acts
- Bob Jacobs -- vocals
- Dennis Pfister -- vocals, guitar
- none known
Rating: **** (4 stars)
Title: Songs For a Sideshow of the Mind
Country/State: Santa Barbara, California
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: minor ring wear
Catalog ID: 20285
Best time to play: Halloween !!!
While I'm not a big science fiction fan and have little more than a cursory knowledge of Ray Bradbury's work (I didn't read my first Ray Bradbury novel until I was in my 50s), I have to admit that this oddball concept album is pretty entertaining in a strange and hard to describe fashion. It certainly helps to know a little bit about the source material if you're going to "get" this album. In this case Dark Carnival reflected a collection of twenty-seven short stories Bradbury published in 1947.
Here's how Bradbury's own liner notes describe the album: "This record is the result of a thank-you note which Bob Jacobs sent me from Europe in the form of the turn October Country. I liked it so well that Bob wrote an entire album around various stories in my book, in less than a month. Now, some while late, I am happy to find that Tower Records is releasing this album under the title of Dark Carnival. And I am happy for two reasons. First, it means that Bob Jacobs, a fine writer and performer, is on his way. Second, I am pleased that this young man has reached out to capture my stories in song. I have no convenient tag or label to pin on the kind of music you will find in this collection. Just as each of my stories in October Country lived their own particularly lives and truths in their own particularly way, the songs based on these stories ranger from folk ballad to hard rock and the emotions moved from light to dark, from humor to terror. Bob Jacobs is even harder to label. He writes poems, songs, stories, sings, acts, and directs, but above all, even amidst such songs of mystery and fright as these is, like myself, optimistic about Mankind's future. In any even, here he is, for you to judge on your own. I hope he scares you. I hope he delights you."
So that told you absolutely nothing about what the album actually sounds like ... Truth of the matter is that "Songs for a Sideshow of the Mind" is simply hard to described. Imagine a mid-'60s soft-psych band like Gary Usher's Sagittarius having overdosed on downers and bad greeting cards, or perhaps The Alan Parsons Project at their darkest had they existed ten years earlier. Those comparisons might give you a little baseline for the album's unique sound. Produced and arranged by Jacobs, musically this was heavily orchestrated 1960s pop with oddball lyrics, sound effects, and occasional slugs of fuzz guitar and feedback. As lead singers Jacobs and Dennis Pfister were consistently entertaining, though a consistent criticism stemmed from their tendency to get a little too theatrical on songs like 'October Country', 'The Wind' and the goofy 1920's-styled 'There was An Old Woman'. While the music was certainly interesting (a Dixieland jazz arrangement propelled 'The Dwarf'), the set's real claim to fame rested with some of the strangest lyrics you'll ever hear on a rock album. Skeptical ? Well check out selections like 'The Emissary' and 'The Small Assassin'.
Certainly not for everyone, but bizarre enough for my tastes to warrant tracking it down.
For a Sideshow of the Mind" track listing:
1.) Introduction (Bob Jacobs) - 0:45 rating: ** stars
Short, forgettable spoken word introduction that really didn't do much to set the stage for what was to come ...
2.) October Country (Bob Jacobs - Dennis Pfister - Larry Delinger) - 2:52 rating: *** stars
Jacobs' inspiration for this one was apparently the title of a 1955 Bradbury collection that reprinted fifteen stories from the earlier Dark Carnival compilation, adding four previously released stories. Musically it started out as a folkie acoustic tune. Complete with orchestration, this one was simply way too fey for my tastes, though the bass line was enjoyable..
3.) The Emissary (Bob Jacobs - Dennis Pfister - Larry Delinger) - 4:12 rating: *** stars
"A bed-ridden boy named Martin who sends his dog out to bring back his friend, Miss Haight ... who was killed in a car wreck!" 'The Emissary ' was a big, heavily orchestrated ballad with an echo effect that sounded like it had been recorded in a gymnasium shower. It also had some of the album's most disturbing lyrics ...
4.) The Wind (Bob Jacobs - Dennis Pfister - Larry Delinger) - 2:51 **** stars
"A former travel writer becomes mortally afraid that the winds he has defied around the world are gathering to kill him." C'mon, how could you not like a song that started out with heavy wind sound effects and then managed to name check more obscure countries than you've heard since you were in high school.
5.) The Small Assassin (Bob Jacobs - Dennis Pfister - Larry Delinger) - 2:46 **** stars
"A tender lullaby about a six week old baby who murders his mother and father." Well, it clearly takes a special talent to meld a bouncy melody with such a dark and disturbing lyric ... Even worse, this is one of those songs that occasionally creeps into my mental play list when I'm not thinking about it. Yeah, I may have more problems that I care to admit ...
6.) Homecoming (Bob Jacobs - Dennis Pfister - Larry Delinger) - 2:26 **** stars
"About a little boy named Timmothy who is the only normal human being in a family full of vampires, mummies and other crawly things." 'Homecoming' may have the jauntiest harpsichord arrangement I've ever heard. In fact, anyone expecting something dark and gruesome was going to be disappointed learning that this tune made Bobby Pickett's 'The Monster Mash' sound like a slice of death metal. For some reason this one always makes me think of Beverly Owen who played the "normal" niece, Marilyn Munster in "The Munsters" television series.
"A tattooed freak whose illustrations come to life and predict the mind crashing future." In spite of the ominous description, 'Illustrated Man' was a pretty, rather fragile harpsichord and oboe powered ballad. Dylan would have been proud to have heard how many words Jacobs crammed into two and a half minutes.
2.) The Dwarf (Bob Jacobs - Dennis Pfister - Larry Delinger) - 2:58 **** stars
"The owner of a Hall of Mirrors and a young carnival-goer observe a dwarf so uses the mirrors to make himself seem taller." One of the album's most conventional pop songs. Serves to showcase how commercial Jacobs voice was. I even liked the unexpected Dixieland arrangement.
3.) The Jar (Bob Jacobs - Dennis Pfister - Larry Delinger) - 3:23 rating: *** stars
"A poor farmer buys a jar with something in it for twelve dollars and it soon becomes the conversation piece of the town. However his wife begins to realize that she cannot stand the jar or him." I won't say it was scary, but complete with sound effects and discordant background music, the spoken word 'The Jar' was the album's creepiest performance.
4.) There was An Old Woman (Bob Jacobs - Dennis Pfister - Larry Delinger) - 2:30 rating: ** stars
"There was an old woman who defied death for years. Death tricked her one day and stone her body but she wasn't going to let that stop her." The old timey arrangement reminded me of something Spanky and Our Gang might have recorded ... yeah, quite irritating.
5.) October Country (Bob Jacobs - Dennis Pfister - Larry Delinger) - 1:13 rating: ** stars
Better than the spoken word intro, but again, not an essential track.
So here's what Bob Jacobs had to say about the LP:
for the reference to The August People, that was just the name I gave to the
sidemen who played on the album. Mostly friends from Santa
Barbara. As an added note of clarification, all of the lyrics
were written by me personally. Ray [Bradbury] didn’t write any of
them. Each song was based on one of his stories from the collection
called, “Dark Carnival.” Dennis Pfister wrote the music for some
of the songs. I co-wrote the music for some others with Larry Delinger.
I did the initial arrangements. Four of the tunes had additional
arrangements by the guy who is credited with arranging on the album.
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