Jenny from Thebes
The Mountain Goats
It’s hard for a band with over 20 albums to keep challenging itself, but the Mountain Goats have done just that with Jenny from Thebes, the first sequel in the band’s 32-year history. Upping the stakes, Jenny from Thebes is a follow-up to one of the band’s most beloved albums, 2002’s All Hail West Texas, on which the eponymous Jenny appeared, high on life, on a song simply titled “Jenny.” She also appeared on Jam Eater Blues’ “Straight Six” and Transcendental Youth’s “Night Light.” In each instance, she’s passing through, dropping out. The Mountain Goats’ latest finds Jenny still on the move, still with her custom yellow and black Kawasaki in tow.
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Jenny from Thebes finds Jenny fleeing from a safehouse she runs, causing a ripple effect through the people who depend on the sanctuary it provides and the hostile west Texas town that feels threatened by its existence. The lives of the people she leaves behind, and the town itself, collapse behind her like a coil of dominoes. Jenny can’t afford to look backwards as she attempts to outrun disaster.
Band leader John Darnielle recorded All Hail West Texas alone on a boombox in an empty house, and he committed no more than one day to finishing each song. Immediacy and a sense of isolation suffused the album’s 14 lo-fi tracks. By contrast, Jenny from Thebes is high-definition cinema. The Mountain Goats are now a foursome, including bassist Peter Hughes, drummer Jon Wurster, and multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas. The album also features a robust cast of guests: Bully’s Alicia Bognanno, Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s, and Matt Nathanson. On top of all those contributors, Grammy-winning producer/engineer Trina Shoemaker adds her expert finesse to the fulsome mix.
Horns and strings abound on Jenny from Thebes, hauling the audience along as Jenny hauls ass out of west Texas. “Only One Way” calls to mind the breezy grace of Fleetwood Mac, and like their turbulent “Rhiannon,” “Only One Way” rides a stormy undercurrent. On songs like this, Douglas’ sweeping arrangements make it easy to forget that Jenny isn’t taking to the road in a triumphant blaze of glory. Any such impression is illusory, like the false optimism that colours another one of the Mountain Goats’ most beloved albums, 2005’s The Sunset Tree.
The danger that looms over Jenny from Thebes comes into clear relief on “Murder at the 18th Street Garage,” where Darnielle & co. lay down heavy electric guitars one might expect to soundtrack a tale so urgent and dramatic.
In a cultural landscape oversaturated with sequels, Jenny from Thebes is a welcome, thoroughly crafted addition that breathes new life into a character who’s long piqued much curiosity from Mountain Goats diehards. Who knows when or where Jenny will resurface, but don’t be surprised if we haven’t heard the last of her.
Pre-order Jenny From Thebes by The Mountain Goats HERE
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