The title of Firewater's fifth album, Songs We Should Have Written, would suggest that this New York-based bunch is falling back on a pop music primer. In fact it's more an affirmation of their own musical stance, a heady art-punk mix that blends such disparate elements as klezmer, Indian wedding music, and cabaret. The choice of material is equally eclectic, ranging from the all-too-obvious (Sonny and Cher's prophetic "The Beat Goes On," the Stones' apocalyptic "Paint It Black," and Johnny Cash's woeful "Folsom Prison Blues") to the stunningly obscure ("Storm Warning," an old Jamaican instrumental, as well as "This Little Light of Mine," a traditional tune singer Tod A. learned in grade school). But the bulk of the tunes fall somewhere in between -- an "obscure" Beatles song ("Hey Bulldog"), a pair of MOR standards (Sinatra's "This Town," Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is"), and chestnuts from Tom Waits ("Diamonds and Gold"), Robyn Hitchcock ("I Often Dream of Trains"), and singer/composer Lee Hazlewood ("Some Velvet Morning"). True to form, even the most familiar fare is interpreted in a slightly off-kilter fashion that veers from droll narratives to skittish psycho ramblings. The frantic surge of "Paint It Black" becomes a mournful dirge, while the narrator of "Folsom Prison Blues" is transformed from cool killer into murderous maniac.
Whether or not these are songs Firewater should, or even could have written itself is debatable. Remarkably, though, the group makes them its own.