The Plaid Tongued Devils - Belladona - 2002
It is one of the most interesting hybrids of music in recent years. Calgary, Canada's Plaid Tongued Devils have unknowingly become Western Canada's premier progressive rock band by virtue of a sound that skillfully blends rock, ska, samba, Eastern Europe gypsy music and to a lesser extent, pop.
The band's sound is spearheaded by the virtuoso violin of Jonathan Lewis who plays the electric violin like a metal axe monger on speed. Yet there's no doubt of Lewis' subtlety as he manages to strain the sweetest whispers from his instrument, not to mention from his bevy of viola, fafisa and mandolin. Singer Ty Semaka has a resonant voice that suckles from the marrow of both pain and menace simultaneously. Imagine a deep voiced crooner with a devil's hoofs.
Taking back seat to Lewis' lead violin, guitarist Alan Koldziejzyk remains relatively unplugged throughout. There's the occasional heavy riff as in "No Serpentine" and some classical guitar from time to time. The rhythm section of Chip Robb and John McNeil are tight and on the money.
The fourth release from the band finds 15 tracks of varying lengths and sounds, all lending to almost 70 minutes of an almost faultless CD. It would not be possible to single out any tracks as all are strong but the more progressive ones include the floating "Stealing Flowers" that begins as a haunting, somber ballad and eventually erupts into a molten climax of scorching violin and rhythm. The eight minute closer "Kama Sutra" is a barn-burner that finds the group showcasing everything that makes them good and unique. In the band's stage show, they've been known to enlist in the aid of belly dancers for this number and it works perfectly.
The strongest element of The Plaid Tongue Devils' music is clearly their perfect blend of gypsy music, Eastern European folk, and ska. In the end, "Belladonna" is an exotic treat that is as nonsensical as it is staid. I'm immediately reminded of String Driven Thing's "Starving in the Tropics" though the band claims their influences stem from an obscured Minneapolis band called Boiled In Lead.
While "Belladonna" is not a true progressive rock CD (reader be warned), it is everything that rock and pop is not in today's world mass market pabulum. Its relentless energy and playful sense of adventure surely make it a refreshing and appealing detour for those in search of something different.