(Self-released, digital download)
Who the hell is Ray Fork? A mystery seemingly by design, there is next to nothing about the man available either online or from the fellow members of his band, “El Rey” Tenedor y Su Conjunto Cuchillo — which, loosely translated from Spanish, means “Mr. Fork and his Knife Set.” That cutlery includes some sharp local players, namely percussionist Jane Boxall, keyboardist Ray Paczkowski, guitarist Kevin Stevens, drummer Russ Lawton and guitarist Raph Worrick. But they ain’t talking. Though one might wonder just why it is that Worrick, the group’s primary songwriter, and Mr. Fork are rarely, if ever, seen in the same place at the same time. Hmm…
El Rey’s debut, Pig Latin, does little to dispel the uncertainty surrounding Fork’s true identity. In fact, the five-song EP serves only to deepen the enigma amid a spicy frijole of rock and roll wrapped in a Tex-Mex tortilla. But this is less Tejano rock by way of Los Lobos or the Sir Douglas Quintet than a cheeky interpretation filtered through the offbeat lens of bands such as Sparks, Ween or early Camper van Beethoven. While the music contained herein certainly bears the influence of south-of-the-border grooves, its acerbic northern sensibilities suggest it requires a new definition. Ver-Mexicano, perhaps?
The album opens on “Beach Song.” Recorded as if live at an oceanside tiki bar, with sounds of clinking glasses, breezy chatter and crashing surf in the background, the song has a boozy, celebratory lilt. That airy feel comes to life as Boxall’s bright xylorimba dances over the band’s propulsive, syncopated swagger. Or maybe it’s more of a stagger? Fork spins a cheery yarn of road trips to the beach with good friends and cheap wine. He’s like Jimmy Buffett for the punk set.
“(I’m Just a Minor Threat to Your) Banana Bottom” continues the Margaritaville-by-way-of-the-Road-to-Ruin groove, with Heimo Wallner’s wailing trumpet leading the way like some sort of Guayabera-clad pied piper.
“Let’s Complain” discards the preceding beach-blanket bingo in favor of more contemplative, but dryly witty, fare. Here Fork’s wry humor is front and center as he muses on the unifying romantic power of bitching about shit. It is an unspoken truism that the only thing that draws people together more strongly than shared love is shared loathing.
“Your Song’s Too Long” gleefully — and somewhat ironically, given its rambunctious, Mr. Bungle-esque romp — skewers indulgent jam rock. Here Fork sings, “You opened up nice with two verses and a chorus / But right after that you started to bore us / You were four minutes into your first guitar solo / When I looked at my watch and said, “Time to go!”
Pig Latin closes on a cover of Sparks’ “Hasta Mañana Monsieur,” reimagining the song as lounge-y Latin jazz. It’s a surprisingly effective device, making for that rare cover that both honors the spirit of the original and highlights the band’s own (in this case saucy and mysterious) personality. Who is Ray Fork, indeed?
The band plays a release show this Friday, March 22, at the ArtsRiot Studio on Pine Street in Burlington. Pig Latin is available at rayfork.bandcamp.com.