“You can a sing along if you know the words,” Joe Jack Talcum reminds the crowd packed into a small studio in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on a cold, wintery, evening. Then he breaks into the Dead Milkmen classic, “In Praise of Sha Na Na.” The aptly titled Live in the Studio is a stripped down affair with Talcum (guitarist/singer for the legendary punk band Dead Milkmen) on acoustic guitar and harmonica, backed by Hugh Hamilton on banjo and steel guitar, Marshall Fischer (Felix Lighter) on percussion, and the occasional sing-alongs and shouts from the small crowd.
The album is a mix of classic Dead Milkmen tunes (“Dean’s Dream,” "VFW," “Punk Rock Girl”) and Talcum songs (“Alcohol,” “Sex Sting”). The stripped down setting places the focus on Talcum and his songwriting, which is often lost in the humor and jangly-punk of the Dead Milkmen. Each song seems to find new directions,the simple set-up allowing them room to get up and run.
The Dylan-esque “Fancy Walls” takes on a whole new life and stands as the star of the album, sounding like an up tempo-outtake from The Basement Tapes with its joyous blast of guitar, subtle banjo line, and bursts of harmonica. Even Dead Milkmen tunes played countless times before in countless settings find new life with Talcum’s on-the-verge-of-breaking voice delivered with that familiar punk snarl of his youth.
With its simple, timeless structure and a stripped down sound that reduces each song to its powerful core, Live in the Studio is an intimate look at an artist and the music he makes.
Live in the Studio is out now.