Slim Cessna’s a Baptist preacher’s son. He’s clearly too well-read to work up snake-handling fervor about anything without pausing to wink at the balcony, but he’s found a noble line of work in the old man’s tradition.
The Auto Club are hardly goth-bluegrass’ lone purveyors; ask Sixteen Horsepower or Split Lip Rayfield. But you could argue Cessna is the smartest, weirdest, most circumspect player in this game. His lyrics always take a loser’s side, whether a girlfriend killer or unwilling guinea pig for vaccination testing. At once rousing and perplexing, these pastoral riddles occasionally sacrifice sincerity, but only when it’s expendable. If you get off on smarts in your music, the mournfully homicidal “This Is How We Do Things in the Country,” the sarcastically reverential “He, Roger Williams,” and every riff on provincial hypocrisy in between should be quite the hoot.
The band holds up the fast-paced storytelling more seamlessly than ever, particularly on “Sour Patch Kids,” which relates the rise and fall of a gospel choir while a creepy carnival motif maintains a hoedown-worthy clip. And Cessna ditches the grin for “Port Authority Band,” which sets an Arabian immigrant’s sad tale to a mishmash worthy of early Camper Van Beethoven.