Local CD Review: Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet

Jack Rentfro and the Apocalypso Quartet

Damascus by Sundown

The basic framework of writer/self-mythologizer Jack Rentfro's shambolic music project is familiar—spoken-word performance over moody, atmospheric, semi-improvised jazz rock—but the end result is decidedly not. What could easily descend into bad Beat self-parody instead comes to life as a funky, funny, angry, and weird stream-of-consciousness commentary on the business of being human.

The Apocalypso Quartet is a rotating cast of some of Knoxville's best musicians, anchored by multi-instrumentalist Laith Keilany and drummer Nate Barrett. This new disc, released late last year, collects scattered live performances and recording sessions from 2008–2012 and features contributions from Keilany and Barrett plus Mike Murphy, George Middlebrooks, Emily Mathis, Sonja Spell, Ben Maney, Jeff Bills, and the late Phil Pollard. Each permutation of the band provides a strong foundation of rock, world music, gospel, and even hip-hop for Rentfro's dense wordplay, which is the key to the success of Damascus by Sundown. Rentfro is a better writer than performer, and his writing for this batch of songs is a rambling and sometimes startling combination of biblical references and literary allusions, political rants, observational humor, puns, and philosophical rumination—like a letter to the editor co-written by Woody Allen, James Joyce, and Andy Kaufman.