Rise O' Fainthearted Girls
Prester John is a duo comprising underground guitar hero Shawn Persinger and mandolinist David Miller, both remarkable instrumentalists and engaging singers. Persinger is the songwriter, penning some wildly entertaining, funny, clever-but-never-cheesy, smart and snarky songs. The melodies are strong, catchy and unique, with a current of pop sensibility running under the clear influences of everything from Dawg music to heavy metal to the Beatles to gypsy jazz to bluegrass, with the occasional neo-classical flight of fancy thrown in for good measure.
The original Prester John was a character in the Dark Ages who wrote letters describing a mythical, golden kingdom where he was surrounded by “infidels and barbarians,” and was requesting the assistance of the Christian armies to deliver his kingdom. The kingdom was never found. It is tempting to wax philosophic about Shawn Persinger’s choice of Prester John as some kind of icon, but with tongue firmly in cheek, Persinger’s website says the reason is “marketing.” And that actually explains it really well, even as it explains nothing at all. Which is clearly the point. Ahem.
Persinger’s slightly warped sense of humor is always front and center, even in the poignant “Six Hour Bus,” but the virtuosity never takes a back seat. Persinger is a powerful player, capable of driving a groove hard, playing tender fingerstyle, or flinging a flurry of lightning fast, dead accurate riffs, and don’t you forget it. Miller’s mandolin runs nearly the same gamut, and the combination is wonderfully complementary, especially on the drill-team precise “Best Intentions,” or counterpointing gorgeously on “Peerless,” or just playfully throwing lines back and forth. These two are razor sharp rhythmically no matter what they’re playing. “Dear Martha” has one of the coolest grooves on the record— the guitar and mando harmonize, counterpoint and drive each other relentlessly. The fact that these two keep the energy and the drive high without speeding up the tempo speaks volumes about their musicianship. Altogether enjoyable!