For a good stretch during the late ’80s/early ’90s, the John Terlesky-fronted, garage-rocking Original Sins were poised to be one of indie rock’s next big things. Despite a string of excellent LPs, that never happened for the pride of Bethlehem, Pa., who disbanded in 1999. Prior to the breakup, Terlesky started releasing more experimental records as Brother JT, and they, too, have been stellar. JT keeps his winning streak alive with the new Tornado Juice (Thrill Jockey), produced by Ray Ketchem (Luna, Okkervil River), who also manned the boards for 1996 Original Sins classic Bethlehem. The good Brother will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, tornado juice not included.
JT: The first time I saw Poor Luther’s Bones was in the early ’90s at some god-forsaken place called the Green Pine Inn in Allentown, Pa. I remember seeing a tall, wiry man with a wide-brimmed hat playing guitar and punctuating his gruff vocals with blasts from a kazoo held by a converted harmonica rack around his neck. I vaguely recall his accompaniment being another guy using a bucket for a drum. “This is really primitive,” I thought, but the singer had something; conviction might have been the word that came to mind.
The man in question was Garth Forsyth, and for upward of 30 years, he’s been the creative force behind PLB. In the process, he has turned out 20 or so albums, many recorded in a shack (the Booby Hatch) in the backwoods coal country of Oley, Pa. It’s a real body of work that stretches stylistically between damaged folk to downright pretty, if rough-hewn, pop, to thrashing, “out” rock excursions.
And he shows no sign of slowing down. PLB’s Bandcamp page lists four releases, all from the last two years: Two are acoustic-based efforts swinging between woozy, pedal-steel crashers and fragile, fingerpicked hauntings, while the other two are jam-kicking full-band assaults that find a sweet spot between Captain Beefheart polyrhythm and sneering garage rock. A new recording, to be called Bumpkins Of The Oblong Table, is presently in the works.
What melds it all together is Forsyth’s persona, best appreciated when seen leading his band live. Looking like a haunted cowboy hopped up on trucker speed, he prowls the stage, letting loose whatever demons the songs demand. Along with the sometimes calliope-like, circuitous twists of the music, the effect is a bit like a dadaist circus where Forsyth alternately plays the ringleader, clown and freak.
But while a lot of rock “theatrics” are just that, Poor Luther’s Bones comes off more like action painting; the freneticism is intrinsic to the end product, rather than just a “show.” Forsyth is using raw music and words to make sketches of a complicated, challenging psyche. Like the dark taverns you’ll find them playing it’s not particularly welcoming on the outside but rewarding once you go in..