Out of California’s High Desert, invoking the very spirit and intention of their namesake’s “Cosmic American Music,” comes Gram Rabbit and Music To Start A Cult To. The band’s name originated because the band originally formed in order to play the annual Gram Parsons Tribute Festival in Joshua Tree, but missed the deadline that year. Instead, founding members Jesika Von Rabbit (singer/keyboardist/guitarist) and Todd Rutherford (guitar/vox) holed up in the San Joaquin Valley to woodshed for a year or two.
The result is Music to Start A Cult To, which is a combination of Nancy Sinatra and Debbie Harry, New Age and the Rat Pack, Vegas and the Mojave, Art Bell and Jesus. The sound veers from camp Western crossed with Detroit garage rock – imagine Neil Young’s Trans made more poppy and actually listenable — to electronica crossed with metal. The song titles almost give it away: “Devil’s Playground,” “Cowboys and Aliens,” but while “Dirty Horse” is the soundtrack to a sci-fi western, “Cowboy Up” sounds like the kind of song you’d hear at 4 a.m. on the dance floor of a NYC club so exclusive it has no name, the only sign of it being a velvet rope in front of the entrance. Lest you fear there’s no cohesion or consistency, the entire album would serve well as soundtrack for an early morning drive up to Joshua Tree from the airport at Palm Springs, echoing the endless blue sky and brown-grey-sage-green mountains, punctuated by windmills and strip malls.
The songs invoke a sense of place but are not limited by it, and rabbit ears (of course, she wears them onstage, in case you thought for a second she didn’t) aside, this debut album is a varied, thoroughly interesting (and not interesting as in “I hate it so I’ll say that it’s interesting,” interesting as in, truly, no one else is doing anything quite like this), haunting, fascinating first release.
But, be warned – those drawn in by the Parsons reference should be aware that the album is far more rave than hootenanny – which is not necessarily a bad thing, but not quite the soundtrack you might be looking for. The musicianship is excellent, von Rabit’s voice ethereal and haunting, and the production top-notch. The live show is purported to reflect all of the Gram Rabbit ingredients; the question will be whether the shtick sustains beyond the West, and if there’s enough material to continue the Gram Rabbit vibe and identity into future releases. Hopefully, they’re in it for the long haul – erm, hop.