Ass Ponys' two A&M albums, 1994's Electric Rock Music and 1996's The Known Universe, were two of my favourites of those respective years.
Electric Rock Music begins with Grim, which features one of my favourite verses ever: "Standing on the highway/My pants around my knees/I'd write her name out on the road/But I can't piss Denise."
Electric Rock Music also features two other certifiable left-field classics in Litttle Bastard and Earth To Grandma, while Place Out There, Lake Brenda, Peanut '93, Banlon Shirt and Gypped aren't far behind. It remains my favourite Ass Ponys album.
The Known Universe suffers a bit by comparison, but still features fine tracks like the alt.country Under Cedars and Stars and It's Summer Here.
I saw the Ass Ponys play twice during this period and the band combined its rock, pop, roots and country elements flawlessly and with good humour, including a show-ending cover of Eric Carmen's All By Myself. I spent some time talking and drinking with the band in the dressing room after each show and enjoyed it thoroughly. The guys, especially main man Chuck Cleaver, have a way of describing dark things in a lighthearted way that is totally absorbing.
But the band parted ways with A&M after that and I don't think it returned to Toronto to play, either. So I lost touch with the group, which released two albums on the Checkered Past label. But my Postcard From Hell friend Jeff Keating (a Cincinnatti resident like the members of the band) just sent me a home-made compilation of his favourite Ass Ponys songs, which features nine songs from these last two albums.
The three tracks from 2000's Some Stupid With A Flare Gun were probably my least favourite, but the standout Astronaut reminded me a bit of Frank Black -- as do a number of the group's songs, now that I think about it.
Lohio, from 2001, went in a more alt.country direction than previous releases, from what I can gather. But while Last Night It Snowed starts off slowly, it soon breaks into a bigger rock sound and some subtle horns can be heard in the background. Some fiddle can be heard on Only and Calendar Days, while Kung Fu Reference, Dried Up and Butterfly easily stand up with the band's best.
Cleaver has a high, quavery voice that I know won't be for everyone, but it suits his material perfectly. The lyrics aren't your run-of-the-mill "boy meets girl" love songs, but Cleaver manages to explore potentially uncomfortable subjects without getting depressing -- which is an accomplishment he should be proud of.
Ass Ponys, to the best of my knowledge, haven't released anything since Lohio. And while the band still plays, it apparently doesn't stray too far from home that often. So here's a plea to Chuck and the boys: Please record another album and come to Toronto in support of it.
Thanks for the disc, Keats. I owe you one.
np Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain