Yard Sale, the ‘new’ second album from alt.country noir-niks The Beauty Shop is a somewhat surprising package – nearly half of its tracks previously appeared on their first offering, 2002′s Yr Money or Yr Life, while another two (A Desperate Cry For Help and Paper Hearts For Josie) have been released as singles, leaving precious little room for new material.
Four years is a long time from which to return to the party with just half an album and this seems like an odd gamble for the Illinois band whose earlier efforts have been highly praised.
And yet somehow the ennui and wasted opportunity of this slots in nicely next to the dark and brooding tales of decaying lives and failed relationships that has earned frontman and lyricist Andy Hoeffleur previous comparisons with everyone from Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen to, rather unfairly, the Crash Test Dummies. At times, this is pared down, lo-fi country stripped back to its roots, sung in the rough-throated baritone of a man who it’s easy to believe has lived the life he presents.
Yard Sale’s opening track, Monster, lulls you into a false sense of security with its jangly, poppy guitars that seem incongruous next to Hoeffleur’s heart-wrenching lyrics. When the singing kicks in, it sets up a miserable/tuneful juxtaposition worthy of The Smiths. Monster leads into the darker, brooding Death March and its follow up I Got Issues, both of which appeared on the first album, but they’re good reminders of what the band are about.
You begin to get the sense that the man who weaves these tales of cornfield gothic is not so much whining or despairing as finding a bluesman’s contentment in the inevitability of it all – and quietly smiling that at least it’s all resulted in a few good tunes. Undercut with deep, hypnotic baselines and hooks such as the memorable “I ain’t never gonna change, I got issues”, the songs not only make no apologies but at times seems to take pride in their refusal to do so.
The mistakes of which Hoeffleur sings are an accepted part of his world, and when he speaks of decisions made too long ago to redeem, he also lets you know that he won’t let it beat him down. The refugees from the first album are followed by the more upbeat Paper Hearts For Josie, a previous single which turns to Loaded-era Velvet Underground for its influences and is followed on the album by another single, A Desperate Cry for Help. Asking desperate questions such as “What if every dream I have ends in bitter sorrow?” and then answering them almost immediately with “I guess I got so burned out I just don’t care at all”, over one of the album’s most upbeat, foot-tapping tunes, it’s easy to see why it was chosen as a good track to give a snapshot introduction to the band.
This pit of vocal despair also marks a sea-change between the recycled first half and the more upbeat new material to follow. The sixth track, Babyshaker, sees the return of the jangly guitars and leads into Rumplestiltskin Lives, whose cheerier beats and ironically-knowing grunge-friendly rock guitar solo prove that Hoeffleur isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself.
Before long, however, it’s back to more familiar old friends – the beautifully slow, calming Science Lights and its following track, Shell Game, which would make a perfect backdrop for a late night drive on lonely country roads. Nightcrawlers cheers thing up a bit again, only to allow the beautiful acoustic guitar of final track, The Love I Could Not Save to bring the mood right back down again into a comforting sense of disappointment that has been accepted, filed away, and pillaged for the rich tapestry of whatever alt.country laments The Beauty Shop might choose to serve up next.