Painted With the Mouth, the tenth full-length album from the long-running Aussie-American combo Ashtray Boy, is a tour de force of poppy melodies, darkly quirky narratives, and inventive, upbeat arrangements. Singer/guitarist Randall Lee’s rich, unique baritone –
Honed over 30 years of playing as Ashtray Boy – propels these 17 tracks, whose topics include 1950’s Italian film noir, the love of obscure guitars, and being an “Ex-Cannane” (Lee started his songwriting career as a principal player in legendary indie pop band the Cannanes.)
“Arrivederci Baby,” the album’s opener, channels the continental flair AB brought to their 2003 album The Euro – in which each song represented a different European country – this time, telling the tale of a doomed Roman holiday. “Dyer/Maker” references the Led Zeppelin chestnut, recasting it as the tale of failed musical aspirations between two Zep fans working in a tie-dye factory. Lee out-strums the Wedding Present’s David Gedge in AB’s barn-burning cover of “Anyone Can Make a Mistake.” There are several paeans to beloved guitars: “The Flamingo” professes its love for the fabulously pink ‘60s Maton electric, while “J2K#12” is an ode to the Telecaster built for Lee by drummer/lyricist J. Niimi (who is a luthier by trade.) And “Oh Gilberto” imagines a fictional tryst between Antonio Carlos Jobim and the wife of the Tropicalia maestro.
The memorable songcraft and tangible pop hooks of Painted With the Mouth are the perfect antidote to the rehashed punk, soulless electronica, and for-its-own-sake eclecticism that seem to dominate the current indie scene. Ashtray Boy are legends in the making, and the latest jewel in Minty Fresh’s crown.