Sound: It's hard to find an album out these days that doesn't include at least one dark, introspective tune that caters to the gloomier side of life, but the Meat Puppets might just have pulled it off. Although the band has actually been around since 1980, the Meat Puppets' turning point came with the release of the 1994 single Backwater. A favorite for radio and MTV, that song solidified the band's place as one of the buzz bands of the 90's. While a string of events (including a couple hiatuses and break-ups) led to the Meat Puppet falling under the radar, the current lineup of vocalist/guitarist Curt Kirkwood, bassist Cris Kirkwood, and drummer Ted Marcus have been back at it since 2006. The result of that creative output has been a series of happy-go-lucky, but always complex arrangements.
The Meat Puppet's newest release Sewn Together contains everything that you either love or hate about the trio, namely quirky compositions, intricate instrumentation, a nod to psychedelia, and the deadpan delivery of vocalist Curt Kirkwood. There is an eclectic variety of styles that show up on the band's 12th full-length studio album, but the Meat Puppets combine that with a feel-good approach found in most of the songs. The title track Sewn Together is a perfect example with its gleeful country undercurrent (it's subtle, but there) and the rich layers of instrumentation. The chorus is slightly reminiscent of Julian Lennon's Too Late For Goodbyes only a lot cheerier.
A few tracks like Blanket of Weeds and Rotten Shame stay with a fairly straightforward rock format, but I would consider those actually the duller moments of the CD. That's not to say they are bad tracks because even the aforementioned tunes includes some incredible guitar work, particularly the Jimi Hendrix-like approach featured in Blanket of Weeds. That track also includes a drawn-out, dramatic ending full of lots of layering and effects so that in itself is a show. Rotten Shame might make for a suitable radio track, but it doesn't quite do justice to the Meat Puppets' creativity.
Sapphire might be one of the mellower ballads on Sewn Together, but its classical Spanish influence accentuates the acoustic talents of Curt Kirkwoo. At the other end of the spectrum is I'm Not You, which carries a bluegrass style throughout. It's possibly a mandolin that we hear during many moments of the picking heaven, but regardless, that instrument is responsible for driving the song. There is also a rock element underneath, so it never ever feels like it is a completely pure bluegrass tune.
The last few tracks on the CD do have an almost a childlike, happy feel to them, particularly the closers The Monkey and the Snake and Love Mountain. There is no shortage of fantastic musicianship within either of these tracks, though, and you'll find The Monkey and the Snake for as nursery rhyme-like as it might seem with all of its whistles contains some of the most interesting picking techniques. The main issue with pretty much all of the tracks is Cur's vocal style. If you're already a fan, his droll delivery won't be an issue. But at times it does feel like the Curt's vocals just don't live up to the complex, epic moments we hear in the instrumentation. // 8
Lyrics: The lyrical content of Sewn Together often features colorful language that is able to stand up against the musical arrangements. And when you reflect on the generally positive feel to the music, it's obvious that the lyrics play a big part in those results. Whether it's the youthful lines in Nursery Rhyme (And out of the fog flew a rubber baby; The donkey receivers were happy and free) or the hugs-for-all sentiment of Love Mountain (Gonna head on out to where the flowers bloom; Stop for awhile on the way to the moon; It's raining out but I feel so fine), it becomes very obvious that the Meat Puppets must be some of the most easy-going guys in rock. // 8
Overall Impression: The Meat Puppets seem to never disappoint when it comes to well thought-out arrangements, and Sewn Together is no exception. Curt Kirkwood is both forward-thinking and nostalgic with his guitar playing, and the solos electric, acoustic, and mandolin are the highlight of the CD. Not every song's core songwriting is the most interesting or original, but the moments when Curt channels Jimi Hendrix or even his inner bluegrass musician tend to make it all worthwhile. // 9