Album Reviews

Petunia & The Vipers

Dead Bird On The Highway

Artist:     Petunia & The Vipers

Album:     Dead Bird On The Highway

Label:     Independent

Release Date:     05/20/2016


A man of as much talent as mystery, Petunia is a Canadian country treasure. His illustrious career began with busking his way through Canada and the NYC subways, playing over 150 shows a year to enthralled audiences stumbling on the next best musical gem. Since then, he has racked up the achievements with several celebrated solo releases and frequent tours spanning continents. Alone, Petunia is a talent unapologetically slapping fans with shocking versatility. Together with his Vancouver-based backing band, The Vipers, he is a fireball, ripping and roaring with eclectic instrumentation and an energy only attainable through big band camaraderie.

On the band’s latest full-length record, Dead Bird On The Highway, released a few months ago, a whole slew of genres — blues, hillbilly country, rock ‘n roll, avant garde — come together for a late-night party teeming with moonshine and a good old jam session. The album, which was independently released, highlights every ability of Petunia’s adaptable voice: growls, howls, yodels, and all. Setting the stage for him are The Vipers’ skillful arrangements with stand-out solos from several upright basses, lap steel guitar, mandolin, and trumpet.

Opening with the old-timey “Blue Yodel Blues”, the band goes back in time to Western swing tunes, an energetic introduction to an increasingly eclectic album similar to the work of American roots musician Pokey LaFarge. Directly following is “Asaw Fofor,” a welcome surprise in which Petunia continues to shock fans with his rendition of a 1960s track by Ghanaian musician Ignace de Souza, respectfully done in Swahili with a slight Petunia twist.

Later, the dark and hypnotic “Death Himself” confuses with its oddly romantic tones hidden behind deep Tom Waits-like musical haunts. On “(My Love Is A) Deep Blue Sea”, another cover, we hear a different side of Petunia, less rock ‘n roll, less country, more straight-forward vocals and slinking jazzy, boozy beats backing him up as he sings lines like “My love is a mountainside/Love so firm it could calm the tide” with an eerie repetition. Finally, the record ends with a cover of the trumpet-led ska-like instrumental, “I’m Shakin'”, launching into Petunia’s vocals. Booming with a frenzy of rhythm, slick wordplay drips from his mouth, ending the record like it began: with energy, passion, and talent so far unrivaled.

With 13 tracks that pour spirit out of every beat released from any of many powerful instruments and every word melting from jittery vocals, Dead Bird On The Highway is a revelation. The whimsy created from a Petunia & The Vipers collaboration is previously unheard of, and that initial (and thereafter constant) jolt of imaginative musicianship should be treated as nothing less than a gift.

–Savannah Davanzo

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