Maybe it’s the Chinese take out container on the album cover; maybe it’s the werewolf adjacent Yeti in the second track, “I Was A Teenage Yeti”; or quite possibly it’s the fantastic, loose rock piano throughout, but listen to Harvey McLaughlin’s latest and you can’t help but think of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”. On second thought, it’s definitely that Bourbon Street jazz meets boogie woogie piano. McLaughlin may call Texas home, but he is clearly the reincarnation of a Prohibition era New Orleans entertainer.
On Rascality, McLaughlin takes the good will built up from last year’s EP and his solid 2018 full length debut and pays it forward with his strongest collection of songs yet. Weird, goofy and simply sublime, tracks like the album opener, “Ghosts On Mars,” (with the triumphantly frantic horns) the aforementioned “I was a Teenage Yeti” and “The Amazing Mole Boy,” McLaughlin fills his songs with the truly bizarrely and impossible to ignore. But even when he’s singing about the seemingly mundane, “Ping’s Chinese Restaurant,” he paints such a vivid picture that you can’t focus on anything but his words (“Suffering succotash in salamander sweat/Kowloon moon pie surprise/Two Tone Tommy works the grill out back”). Rascality serves as a natural sequel of sorts to the themes and characters that populated 2018’s Tabloid.
Along with Zevon, the Randy Newman comparisons are inevitable… and warranted given McLauglin’s knack for penning smart, wry lyrics along with that, you know, piano thing. While the bulk of the songs here focus on the odd and the whimsical, there are moments of seemingly earnestness, on tracks like “Proudfoot” and “Miss It All When I’m Gone”. The album ends on the fantastic “Coney Island Waltz,” a song that synthesizes the charm of McLaughlin’s music: The setting is a little out there, the characters are compelling, and the sentiment is surprisingly sweet. Odd brilliance.