Spells and Rituals, Charming Disaster’s 2019 CD, is a theme album, although that may not be immediately evident; more on that later. First, the songs.
“Blacksnake” is a ballad about significant animals and the protection they provide to people who appreciate them. It is an evocative song, an opener, casting a spell on the listener and warning of approaching danger.
“Wishing Well” is a blues-y number about setting out on a journey, and the responsive awakening of the forces that turn journeys into adventures. The title is a play on words with more than one meaning. I would say double entendre, except that implies an element of sexual intent and tension that is not present. On the contrary, this entire album is largely asexual, so if you or someone you know is reeeeeealy tiiiiired of singers who moan about love or brag about “getting some”, consider this CD a perfect gift.
“Baba Yaga” has a rock-country rhythm with a driving guitar line and some good vocalized yips, cries, and high notes. Ellia Bisker and Jeffrey Morris know their Russian folk tales; I love the Baba Yaga stories, and this song gets the details right.
“Devil May Care” is a great play-on-words song that upends several memes and idioms, with some apposite remarks about coming of age and being human. The whole song is fantastic, and the last verse, about the Devil going on vacation, is sublime. The violin, played by Heather Cole, has some lovely solo moments.
“Blue Bottle Blues” is a slow blues number about dread, medicine/poisons, paranoia and irrevocability; “Black Velvet” with cyanide. The room gets hot and moist as a Louisiana night as you listen.
“Heart of Brass” has a whimsical quality reminiscent of Charming Disaster’s earlier work on Cautionary Tales, with jazzy, swooping, interlacing musical lines and truly wonderful instrumentation. A steampunk ballad about inventiveness, scientific magic and adventure, including monogramed handkerchiefs, monocles, dirigibles and diving bells, this is my favorite song on this CD.
“Keep Moving” is a good rock-road trip song, especially if you like a weird edge to your travels. It continues the sub-theme developed in “Wishing Well”.
“Belladonna Melodrama” is an ominous, penny-dreadful waltz, a romance that is a magnificent tribute to all the gothic genres. What “Days are Numbered” on Cautionary Tales was for spies and double agents, “Belladonna Melodrama” is for every show and series that features foggy streets, mysterious assassinations, midnight rides in carriages driven by dubious drunkards, and protagonists at cross-purposes. Joan Aiken, the great writer of gothic stories for children and young adults, would have loved this song.
“Fire Eater” is about embracing power, attendant with danger. If you are one of the many, many fans of Lin Manuel Miranda, you will probably enjoy this song especially, for it has that quality of lyric inventiveness. If you are older, think Stephen Sondheim.
“Be My Bride of Frankenstein” is Frankenstein by way of Jim Morrison. This is the best dance song on the entire album, and it’s perfect for a goth wedding. A fabulous love song for persons who dance with their shadows.
“Soft Apocalypse” is probably the most upbeat take on the end of the world, as we know it, ever written. Imagine holding hands while you watch civilization collapse, then kissing and dancing to music not played on any electronic system.
So what is the theme of this album? The Tarot. Ellia Bisker and Jeffrey Morris explained that the songs correspond to a Tarot spread, and when they perform the songs live they use the cards that correspond to the songs. Interestingly, the sequence is not fixed; rather, audience members choose cards and co-create a fresh narrative for each show, no two the same. It would be a spoiler to reveal the cards involved, although some are fairly obvious; even better, some songs could represent more than one card. For visual art fans, there is also a songbook of Spells and Rituals available online, gorgeously illustrated by Magda Boreysza. Chris Wozney