What to make of this Austin, Texas, quartet, who specialize in quadruple-time, banjoless bluegrass praise songs for tall boys (as in beer and beefcakes), little white pills and all other manner of getting stoned and satirical? Perhaps not too much, save that the Meat Purveyors, despite their punkish personalities, are surprisingly gifted musicians: Pete Stiles is a jaw-dropping mandolinist, fast, effortless, and with more than enough chops to hold his own with suit-and-tied bluegrass purists; songwriter and guitarist Bill Anderson knows the bouncy but solidly synched rhythms of bluegrass; bassist and singer Cherilyn diMond has the stop-start, bob-and-weave timing pretty much in the pocket; and lead singer Jo Walston has a demure tone and liquid phrasing that make original murder ballads like "Travel and Toil" and "Hanged Man" sound less like gothic voyeurism and more like stories of soulful consequence.
That might be taking the MPs a bit more seriously than they'd likely take themselves: Certainly songs like "More Man," which targets hipster male egos with the prickly chorus "I'm more man than you'll ever be and more woman than you'll ever get," have more play than poignance on their mischievous minds. But the band's ironic warping of bluegrass and string-band styles never chills the way they cook through standards like "Workin' on a Building" or "Little Maggie." The Meat Purveyors may not respect much, but they know what it takes to pull off both traditionals and left-field covers like the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On." And though they're playing Cicero's, which seems to have completely succumbed to the mass psychosis known as jam bands, the Purveyors are undeniably spry and smart about their acoustic, off-kilter kind of country.