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Hallowed Ground—9 
Released: 1984

1) Country Death Song  2) I Hear The Rain  3) Never Tell  4) Jesus Walking On The Water  5) I Know It's True But I'm Sorry To Say  6) Hallowed Ground  7) Sweet Misery Blues  8) Black Girls  9) It's Gonna Rain


What the hell is this?  While Violent Femmes debut might have made you smile, this will probably freak you out.  While the first album had that slightly distorted, fuck you all, three-piece acoustic teenage punk sound, this album uses several different music genres, adding banjo, piano, autoharp, a horn section, and female background vocals.  While the first record influenced Green Day and Jet, this album sounds like Ween.  While "Violent Femmes" was written about typical teenage guy/girl relationships, "Hallowed Ground" concentrates on Gano’s love/hate relationship with religion.  In short, this is a serious album where the Femmes completely abandon the sound that they created. 


Gordon Gano wrote each of these songs, and again, most were written while he was still in high school.  The son of a Baptist minister, he seems to be both questioning and reaffirming his faith throughout this record.  Combine these more serious lyrics with the added musical elements and the result is a much more dark and creepy album.  Even the album cover is freaky…what the hell is that thing? 


It all starts with “Country Death Song,” a country song about murdering children.  Well, a country song done in Violent Femmes mode…meaning a catchier than hell acoustic bass riff with an engaging backwoods story featuring brilliant hillbilly lines like “Well, I'm a thinkin' and thinkin', till there's nothin' I ain't thunk, breathing in the stink, till finally I stunk.”  This is a serious departure from the “normal” Femmes sound, but rules just as much as anything on the first album.  I Hear The Ran” has the “Gone Daddy Gone” feel, but is ten times more scary and distorted.  Two minutes of psycho killer mood craziness with lyrics that could be from an old bluegrass tune.  Never Tell” should be the soundtrack to a horror movie.  While the first album showed innocence, this song in particular shows the band was more than teenage relationship songs…the Femmes were capable of something more Alice Cooperish…something more sinister…of rocking harder…of blowing every 15 year olds mind that bought this album when it came out.  Where the hell did this come from?  Probably their best song overall and it is just brilliant, but the truly disturbing thing is that Gano seems to have really been feeling these emotions, while Alice, no matter how amazing, was just an act.   


Never Tell” would be impossible to follow with anything similar, so the Femmes throw “Jesus Walking On The Water” out at you, and it is pure hillbilly Heaven.  It should be a throwaway fun little ditty, but somehow is more than that—it’s a song about struggling to truly believe, disguised as Appalachian Mountain Music complete with female backing vocals and a fiddle.  I Know It’s True But I’m Sorry To Say” sounds like a different band.  The comparatively angel sounds and truly lovely melody is so out of place that it doesn’t really fit, despite having similar lyrical inspirations.  It might just be me being too picky though, as it is a mellow, beautiful song.  The title track starts with a Bible reading and jumps right into a moody, moving, organ-based, anti-war song.  The sound here is again different, but this is another major highlight featuring an emotion filled electric guitar solo. 


Sweet Misery Blues” has the lyrical sense of humor found on the first album, but an entirely different musical feel.  It sounds like cabaret with a horn section and a little like Lou Reed.  It still rules in a Kinks kinda way.  Black Girls” has an old time jazzy feel, but in a Violent Femmes mold…zaniness galore.  There is an instrumental freak out featuring groovy backbeats, a Snoopy comb thing, and a section that sounds like a bunch of amateur birdcalls and maybe an elephant or two.  It is too long and the lyrics are politically incorrect to say the least, but I love it.  It’s Gonna Rain” closes the album with a song sung from Noah’s perspective after building the arc.  The lyrics again seem straight forward, but are sung with such a sneer they might be condescending.  The true meaning behind them is hidden behind a country sing-along tune that could have been a cover of some Christian song that they had Kindergarten students sing in school.  Not a highlight, but the album wouldn’t be the same without it.      


Are there better albums than this?  God yeah…there are hundreds.  But this is still one of the strangest, most consistently pleasing albums I have heard.  Gano seems to be writing these songs scared that he might be going to hell, and instead of making them sparse and folky, the music matters just as much as the lyrics.  Ritchie and DeLorenzo shine again, and along with Gano’s muse, create a manic work of genius.

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