Blogcritics - Taking the Jesus Pill

June 23, 2006

Rock 'n' roll has always had quasi-religious overtones, especially the brand of southern-fried country/R&B/gospel popularized by the South's favorite son, Elvis Presley. This multimedia "southern gothic rock opera," combining found film clips, paintings, a rock band and a two-act play about lust, sin redemption and drinking, is the brainchild of Birmingham, AL-born musician Charlie Terrell, who released several albums in the '90s on Warner Bros. and Pointblank/Virgin, and his wife, executive producer Polly Parsons, the only daughter of Gram Parsons, another southerner whose music combined a deep religious streak with roots-soaked country-blues and soul.

It's a simple boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl to her crazed preacher father, boy-regains-girl only to discover she's his sister, complete with snake-handling, fervent sermons that borrow from John Lennon's "God," impossibly sexy dancers and the requisite fire-and-brimstone. Terrell serves as the top-hatted, bearded Satanic figure in shades, coolly commenting on the action with his crack Mojo Monkeys Band, performing songs that define the major characters such as "Johnny 3:16" and the Tom Waits jungle boogie of "Chicken-Shit Tina.

"It's an ambitious production, with mesmerizing performances by Michael Childers as the evil evangelist, who takes his sermons into the audience to great effect, a forthright Brandon Karrer as the heroic Johnny 3:16, Nikki McCauley as the duplicitous preacher's virginal but provocative daughter and the wonderfully Divine - like Irene Muzzy as her alcoholic, self-immolating mother.

There are shades of Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and even Romeo and Juliet in the classic tale, setting the context for Terrell's insinuating blues-rock. These days you need more than just a band and some have to create an entire universe for your music, which Terrell and Parsons have succeeded in doing marvelously.