Viking Moses AKA (Brendon Massei) new sophomore album release, The Parts That Showed, is an Americana gem presented in a minimalist style. Recorded like chapters in a book, a silent pause gives the listener a moment to recover and turn the page as the saga unfolds. Massei's uniquely original voice moans, hums, and speaks throughout. The overall somber tone is translated by gilded guitar riffs of electric and nylon string, unadorned piano, rickety rack quality percussion, occasional bass notes, and the haunting use of the singing saw.
This collection delves into a harsh reality of a part-time teenage prostitute and portrays the story of sexual exploitation and the life consequences it permeates. The songs are presented from three perspectives the protagonist girl/woman, her obsessed admirer, and Massei, the storyteller, each creating a diversity of mood and tone.
Although there are lighter moments with Reggie, like beats in “Jones Boys” and “Sole Command of The Day,” always present is the dark underlying subtext, juxtaposing the innocence of childhood with the burden of grownup hardships and lurid predatory fixations.
“One Arm Round the Sinner” is the gestalt of the whole. As Massei sings / when I was a small girl / and things began to swell / I put my body right to work /, and the people paid me well /. She claims / dirty towns you own me /and love is a sore upon the tongue /. With its stirring beat and Massei’s urgent vocals, scaffold in intensity to capture the core of lost innocence in “Little Bows,” she reminisces and longs for the reclamation of her fractured identity. I miss my little bed / where my mother come and bless my cornered head / remembering her painted name on the sign hanging on the door, / ain’t it mine / AIN'T IT MINE /.
Violence, coercion, and abuse have a price. Her emotional disconnect is skillfully portrayed in the passion of Massei’s voice in “On and On In Sunsets.” She conceals her pain in laughter / masks her shame in laughter / frightened teary laughter /.
The obsessed admirers’ passages are the most disturbing dichotomy of obsessive love and aggression. Especially unsettling in “Old Buck Knife.” / I took out my old buck knife / and pressed it beneath her eye / and I turned to see that she understands / that I’m not to be taken lightly/ As he is engaging in this loathsome sex act, he tells her she has beautiful eyes. She, in turn, runs back to the truck and says, “are you gonna come or aint you”? Wow, all in a day's work. Brutal.
His longings are unveiled in “Life Empty Eyes” with a striking seductive assemblage of voices singing / dance or collapse / while I hold you in my arms / loving arms after /. And with“ Under the Soda Sky,” the nylon guitar instrumental and a clash shuffle kick beat starts and ends this surrealistic love serenade. / The sticky dark and lovely soda sky / dripping like the night you came to town / pressing skin we let our lips slip down / dripping like the night you came to town /.
One of the most poignant moments is the cover song “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton. Moses’ emotionally raw delivery gives the song potency and context. The demo-like approach to instrumentation blending the electric guitar, piano, and knocking percussion, is the backdrop for the man’s unrequited love and gives the song an impromptu authentic feel.
The dirty town permeates the broken home as Massei brings the story to a head with a murder ballad, “Ma Moses” The nylon string, continuous beat clank, singing saw, and Massei song speak the saga. The protagonist claims her anger and decides to put a gun to his head. / You’ll take your paper somewhere else / and keep your damn hand off my young / you never know how good it felt / la la la.....
“Tattle Tell” comes on like a whisper as she flees into the night through a maze of backyard junk, leaving behind her chained-up dog Princess. She claims / Oh Hell there’s no shame in what we’ve done / The story concludes with track thirteen with the instrumental “Pa Moses” and a recycled melody hangs thickly in the air as Massei moans.
This collection can be compared to two standout records that featured parts of a better whole. Will Oldham’s (Bonny Price Billy) I See a Darkness and The Sunset Tree by the Mountain Goats, This recording has those qualities.
The Parts that Showed totally captured and moved me. It will forever be a highlight in my collection of favorites, and there aren’t many. Viking Moses can powerfully move his voice but has chosen a quiet restraint to fulfill a vision with a magnificent outcome.
The Parts That Showed was recorded by Paul Oldham, featuring the talent of Spencer Kingman on piano, voice (of Spenking), John McCauley III electric guitar, voice (of Deer Tick), Cody Brant bass, and Jacob Soto drums (of Flaspar), and Evelyn Weston on singing saw.