by Mark Anthony Brennan
Release Date: July 21, 2014
Petunia is a bizarre and mysterious character. I cannot determine his real name, but I do know that he is originally from rural Quebec and is now based in Vancouver, although he seems to have spent time in almost every corner of the country (both Toronto and Fredericton claim him as a former resident, just as examples). What I do know is that he’s an entertainer — I mean in the old-school sense of someone who sings anything, plays anything, does anything in the name of entertainment. He’s Buffalo Bill Cody, he’s P.T. Barnum, he’s Ed Sullivan and he’s a carnival sideshow barker. He wants to take you go on a wild ride with his album ‘Inside of You’, so step right on up, folks.
Petunia’s music is a fun romp through an amalgam of retro sounds. Consider the feisty “Forgotten Melody” with its Django Reinhardt guitars, 1950’s-style crooning, vaguely Balkan rhythms and jazzy brass, or “Primitive Love” with its jungle call chorus, David Lynchian reverb guitar and vocals that range from low register torch to caterwauling to a weird form of half-speak. There is a lot of rockabilly here (“Runaway Freight Train Heart”, “They Almost Had Me Believing”) and real predilection for ’50’s-style country, but none of it is what you’d call pastiche. “Bicycle Song”, for example, evokes Hank Williams and “Holy Budge Winters” sounds like a countrified Jerry Lee Lewis, but they both sound as if they come from the Eisenhower era on a different planet. Petunia is not a country neotraditionalist, nor is he cowpunk or alt country (for one thing he includes elements of swing, jazz and blues, as well as traditional country). It’s just that when it comes to musical styles, Petunia is like a child in a toy store — he’ll pick up and play with whatever catches his eye.
Being the consummate showman that he is, Petunia selects only the finest musicians to accompany him (a group known as the Vipers), and the arrangements and production on ‘Inside of You’ are top notch. The first-time listener may be thrown off by how Petunia’s voice never sounds the same from track to track (or even from one line to the next within a single song). This may strike some as affectation, but you must remember that Petunia does not care about being taken seriously — he just wants to entertain you. Job done, sir.