What’s a Southern Gothic? Toni Morrison’s story of a ghost baby throwing tantrums and tearing up the floorboards of the house it haunts. That, and any Junior Kimbrough track is a Southern Gothic, but not this elpee by The Constellations.
“Southern Gothic,” instead, is a groove-heavy love letter of sorts to the city of Atlanta and its night life. Its a great party record, one that 88Nine listeners are already somewhat familiar with thanks mainly to Tarik “The Architect” Moody, who championed the elpee long before it was picked up by Virgin Records.
In a city as racially segregated as Milwaukee is, 88Nine is doing what I like to think of as culturally important work. Music does bring people together. I’ve seen it. “Southern Gothic” and its mix of rock, hip-hop, soul and ska fits that 88Nine sound perfectly.
It ain’t a perfect record though. “Step Right Up” steps right off a cliff if yer familiar with the original Tom Waits cut. The Constellations are brave for making a go of it, and their tailoring of the lyrics to custom fit Atlanta is cool, but it’s one of Waits’ best tracks EVER (and that’s saying something) and is better left alone. (Side note, speaking of Milwaukee radio: First time I heard “Step Right Up” was on WMSE in a car full of high school mates cruising Brady Street on a Friday night back in the early eighties. Back then, Milwaukee radio was abysmal, and WMSE was the only hope).
One track on “Southern Gothic” that’s irresistible is “We’re Here To Save The Day,” in part because of it’s ultra-catchy chorus (sung by children!), its 2 Tone ska beat (!!!) and its flatly anti-consumerist message. Another is “Felicia” with its Ray Charles swagger. And then there’s that love letter to Atlanta, “Take A Ride.” It begins with a dirty beat and “cocaine vultures,” but there’s post-bar-time, pre-dawn redemption in the shimmering chorus, where it becomes exactly the sort of thing I’d want to hear while blissed out with the top down, cruising the empty streets on a hot and humid summer night.