Twice Bitten

Tarantella gets caught up in an exotic whirlwind.

As much as she considers Tarantella a political band, Cahoone prefers poetic metaphor to sermonizing -- at least in song. That she mostly vocalizes in romance languages opens her lyrics to varying interpretations.

"I was encouraged in Argentina to sing in Spanish," Cahoone says. "They loved to hear my accent in their native tongue. You can copy it without knowing the meaning. I had a friend there who did Tom Waits in English like you've never heard. So I could listen to any song in any language and imitate it -- just like anyone could -- if I heard it enough times."

Repetition seems to have paid off well on Tarantella's exceptional debut, Esquéletos, released on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles. Stylistically diverse, with a sprawling, cinematic influence credited to Rumley's passion for soundtracks, the album evokes wide open spaces, everywhere from the steep Pawnee Butte ("Miss Gringa") to a cactus-soaked landscape that could make Ennio Morricone's mouth water ("Alder Tree"). Cahoone's emotionally languid tone is a perfect fit for lovelorn ballads like "Mexican Wine" or "Un Año de Amor." ("Be sure to include the tilde," she notes, laughing. "Otherwise it translates to 'Anus of Love.'") During the disc's most ambitious, shapeshifting track, "Dame Fuego," Tarantella sounds like ELO covering Procol Harum's "Conquistador," wisely abandoning every restriction of conventional four-four time.

Along came a spider: John Rumley (left) and Kal 
Cahoone are Tarentella.
Gary Isaacs
Along came a spider: John Rumley (left) and Kal Cahoone are Tarentella.

"I hate rock," Cahoone declares. "It's become such a cheesy, overdone thing. Maybe I'm too old, but I don't want to hear noise."

With the album's gorgeous, slow-loping title track, Tarantella won't be accused of rattling amps gratuitously. "Esquéletos" paints a dreamlike vision of skeletons dancing on a sandy beach, wasted to the bone from unfulfilled yearning. "It has a personal history for me," Cahoone admits. "When love dies, it's just skeletons of love. It's a bit Day of the Dead. And sometimes when I'm around a lot of people and I'm really bored, I just imagine everybody being a skeleton, blabbing away. I'm a freak, man."

Cahoone's twangy little sister, Sera Cahoone, a recent Sub Pop signee, addresses heartache from a more countrified perspective. But for Kal and company, the archaic Latin influence allows Tarantella to explore a grander, more historic scheme of human drama, including political struggle. It's little surprise that Cahoone helped to launch Coloradoans for Immigrant Rights. (A vague but direct bumpersticker on her car declares, "No Human Being Is Illegal," a sentiment repeated in the disc's liner notes en español.)

"Before I had a baby, I was more active," Cahoone notes. "It's not my cause anymore; I'm too busy just trying to survive. But how can you not feel compassion for someone who's crossing a border in the desert, in the heat, to save their family? Your relatives came in a boat. What's the difference? Mexicans weren't brought here from Africa, but they still work like slaves.

"Singing in Spanish might not seem like much," she continues, "but to me that's empowering for that population in itself, no matter what I sing about."

Skeletons? Blood-soaked sand? The final resting place of a single tear? Pero que sí.

"When Mexicans celebrate Day of the Dead, they're laughing at death," Cahoone insists. "They stay with the dead for at least 24 hours, talking with them and making jokes. Here when someone dies, it's a cold tragedy, which I'm not into. I'd like for people to celebrate and have fun when I die.

"Maybe I'll come back as a spider," she concludes, "so I shouldn't be killing any bugs."

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