The Denver Gentlemen came, as the MENSA members in our audience may already have surmised, from Denver, Colorado. At one time they were the brightest jewel in the crown of Denver's unlikely alt-country scene, though they were far more alt than country. Among the roster of ex-Gentlemen you'll find members of 16 Horsepower, as well as a pre-Auto Club Slim Cessna. This puts a surprising new spin on Cessna's music, which I previously considered idiosyncratic. Trust me: compared to Introducing..., Cessna comes off like Garth Brooks.
Introducing...The Denver Gentlemen is the Gents' "lost" debut album. After recording it, the band apparently disintegrated, its members scurrying to higher-profile gigs with little thought to the finished LP languishing on a DAT somewhere. I don't know how Absalom Recordings came across it, but we should all thank them. This is one very special, very skewed recording. Nominally a country record -- it sounds slightly more like country than it does like anything else -- Introducing... is a profoundly eccentric mixture of Eastern European folk music, marching band, cabaret and Elvis-style gospel, with a hint of eighties pop thrown in for...well, good measure, I guess.
The challenge for a great many listeners will be frontman Jeffrey-Paul's uniquely quavery vocals. His extremely broad vibrato suggests an androgynous Weimar Republic-era cabaret singer working his way through a Brecht/Weill composition, and I'm guessing that's not going to be everybody's cup of tea. Compared to a bog-standard rock vocalist, though, Jeffrey-Paul is a revelation. Because of his efforts, "When the Lord, He Speak to Me" sounds like a refugee from a Tim Burton-directed Threepenny Opera, complete with Piazzolla-esque stabs of sardonic accordion. On the opposite end of the sonic spectrum, "Mid-Day-Merry-Go-Round" begins with a "Hit the Road, Jack" bass rhythm, but tinkly piano and brushed-drum rhythm clearly recall the Cure's "Lovecats" -- a similarity Jeffrey-Paul's voice only reinforces. Mind you, I don't remember any Cure songs that lapsed into a Salvation Army band-type chorus of "What a friend we have in Jesus"...
That's just the tip of the eccentricity iceberg, too. "The Potters Field Special" boasts a cascading Eastern European tune given urgent life on the piano, then stopped dead by spooky-spacy female bridge-choruses backed by accordion. Even a comparatively straightforward country song like "Vulture Girl", which features Jeffrey-Paul (at his most calmed-down) in a male/female call-and-response cycle, sounds like little else you've heard. I'm going to stop describing the music at this point in order to give you the opportunity to discover the rest of the album yourself.
This obviously isn't a record for everyone. If you're at all put off by departures from the vocal or instrumental norm, Introducing... won't be well met. Hell, as much as I enjoyed Jeffrey Paul's tremolo-vocal acrobatics, they eventually started to grate. But Introducing... is a far cry from Merzbow-style intractability. It just might take you a little longer to get to know it. The Denver Gentlemen will go down well with people who enjoy Tom Waits, The Residents, The Centimeters, Brecht & Weill, Jim Thirlwell and other artists who specialize in making comfortable, familiar concepts seem alien and strange by approaching them from different directions. Look at Introducing...The Denver Gentlemen as a simple, affordable way to give your complacent record collection the ass-kicking it has needed for a long time.
As a pleasing postscript, I'll tell you that Jeffrey-Paul is in the process of assembling a new incaration of The Denver Gentlemen -- so while this is an introduction, it is no longer necessarily an au revoir as well.