In the days before mass media entertainment, carnivals of various sorts traveled from town to town to entertain folks. A proper circus was one that traveled by rail to major cities, but the ones that drove by cart across rural America were known simply as “mud shows.” What these shows lacked in spectacle, they made up for in impressive feats and hardscrabble moxie. With “Dirty Lowdown Adventure,” Fayetteville's the Good Fear seems to have delivered something of an indie-rock approximation of the best that a mud show has to offer.
The bouncy title cut opens the album, with singer Zach Holland's vocals semi-distorted like a sideshow barker's microphone. The second track, “Chief Concern,” then holds you in suspense with choir-like vocals over a dramatic piano cadenza. From there, the show begins in earnest with “Tools of Trade,” a miniature rollercoaster ride of a tune that sets an up-and-down pattern for the rest of the album (and a theme revisited later on in “I Know They've Branded Me”).
There are the feats of strength: The speedy sextuplet rhythms of the hard-rocking “Where We Were Before” underlie the circus-like lyrics, “I'll show you things that you want to see/I'll tell you things that you want to believe.”
There are horrifying freaks: “Just a Vice” is 10 boozy minutes of plaintive, dissonant slide guitar riffs and lyrics of strung-out self-delusion (“It's just a vice/it's not a problem”).
Epic stories of romance and tragedy are told in “Chester & Josephine,” “Cindy Plum” and “Rett's Song.”
Mud shows, too, were known for going on rain or shine — hence their name. In “Nice Knowing Y'all,” you can almost hear the sad resignation of a mud show employee at the end of the refrain, “Now I depend on the weather for a smile.”
While mud shows rarely featured the high-flying trapeze acts, exotic trained animals and other big-budget amusements of their fancier competitors, they nonetheless provided their salt-of-the-earth spectators with hours of stimulating diversion. While the Good Fear may not have intended the comparison, the itinerant, no-budget lifestyle of most rock bands certainly mirrors that of the old mud show entertainers. They may well be distant cultural cousins. So if you can't afford the three-ring circus that is the contemporary music industry, then go see the Good Fear next time they play your neck of the woods. Like any good mud show, it doesn't come to town often enough.