Throughout Though It Were the Kiss of Death, the Sweet Clementines' second release, one imagines New Paltz singer-songwriter-guitarists John Burdick and Chris Tanis throwing gauntlets: "Badfinger-meets-Django Reinhardt, sir! I dare you!" "Simon & Garfunkel-meets-Ennio Morricone!" "Tom Waits-drinks-absinthe-with-Neil Young!" The two former English teachers receive enthusiastic encouragement from co-conspirators Jason Sarubbi (bass, co-production with Burdick), Marianne Tasick (violin, vocals), Matty Senzatimore (drums), and Paul Carroll (vibraphone, percussion), resulting in an hour or so of exhilarating, epic pop-cabaret-prog-folk laced with Baltic overtones. This is bubblegum and borscht, popcorn and pierogies, spun into scrumptious sound.
Divided into three "sides," Though It Were the Kiss of Death spools out like aural cinema, with Tanis's and Burdick's artful, often funny lyrics—sung in turn by the guys and the angel-throated Tasick—knitting together myriad shades, scenes, and extreme dynamic shifts. Tantalizing hints of a narrative emerge; characters careening through life, longing, loving, misbehaving, their actions punctuated by some astonishing guitar work from Burdick. Production-wise, it's a sonic smorgasbord, ranging from Abbey Road to live-in-a-room lo-fi, yet the personality-rich ensemble work and derring-do spirit give it a distinctive "Sweet Clementines" stamp. If the Merseybeat gypsy melodies don't get you, the well-wrought lines will: "Aren't you tired of sitting around? This house has halitosis. You're a cheese that's expired, taking on all the flavors around by osmosis" ("Inside Out"). Always good to have killer words to sing when a melody gets stuck in your head. Which will happen, guaranteed. Thesweetclementines.com.