Album Review: Mortal Prophets – The Twang Gang (Live in Berlin)

Mortal Prophets is the alter ego of John Beckmann. He’s featured on this blog a couple of times before. At the end of June, he came to my attention thanks to his unique recreation of Albert King’s blues hit Born Under a Bad Sign. We followed that up with a share of his cover of Janis Joplin’s and Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Down On Me. His latest album gives us something entirely different, though. It’s called The Twang Gang (Live in Berlin).

By Graeme Smith

John refers to the album’s genre as “cosmic country” but that only slightly informs you of what you are going to get from this collection. The album purports to be have recorded in live in Berlin, Germany but it’s not entirely clear if this is really the case or something a little more tongue in cheek.

It opens with the slow and meditative Waltz Across New Jersey. You immediately get the mix of traditional country and experimental electronica which is beautifully enticing. This short intro moves seamlessly into 3 Dolla Holla. It has a livelier pace and a heady mix of the laidback and the unnerving. Together these two tracks create a beautiful and intriguing scene.

Mesmerised Stargazers is suitably ethereal. Its guitars are awash with reverb paired with echoing twangs. Its country, but not as we know it. Title track The Twang Gang follows, delving even deeper into country roots. For the first time, we get charismatic vocals, giving the whole piece a bluesy, earthy feel. It’s a definite highlight.

Pagan Driving School (Square Dance) takes things in a slightly psychedelic direction while keeping the cantering pace expected from a square dance. Can You Feel It slows things back down with an intimate acoustic arrangement that develops into electronica. Ride Em High is an ambiently mystical take on cowboy clichés. It’s another highlight.

Alamo Aloha is atmospheric and futuristic lo-fi. Dog Face Joe is a subversive, gritty and brooding blues vignette. Psychotronic Guitar Lullaby is blissful and lulling. It gently and gradually unfolds over five minutes before The Bones Go Last closes the album with a dream-provoking epilogue.

The Twang Gang features John Beckmann on vocals, harmonica and treatments, Parker Bryant on guitars, Concertina on bass, Richmond Davis on organ and harmonica, Beckett Laurent on percussion and programming, and Jonas W. Karlsson on mastering at Henkka Niemistö mastering Helsinki, Finland. You can check out the album below.