Black Jake & the Carnies sets fierce murder ballads and cautionary tales to the beat of an old-time string band. The Ypsilanti septet's unique blend of Americana, Bluegrass and punk (dubbed "Crabgrass") sets a raucous pace for original songs about loup-garous and banjo-pickin' demoniacs. Their ten song debut record, "Where the Heather Don't Grow" was recorded and mixed by Jim Roll in his Ann Arbor, MI studio.
When Black Jake howls for blood, and the Carnies rattle their fiddles and banjos, board the windows and grab the whiskey, cuz' the night is long, the band is tight, and no one gets out alive.
The Toledo City Paper (May 28, 2008)
Simply said, Ypsilanti’s Black Jake and the Carnies get down. With a new album under their belt, the band blends elements of americana, bluegrass, and punk into a unique mixture that they call “crabgrass.” Banjos, mandolins, jugs, train whistles, washboards and saws are no strangers to the Black Jake set, whose sound is something of a late night dirt road party on the Day of the Dead, only no one knows its the Day of the Dead. Instead, it’s Uncle Jim’s birthday ... and Uncle Jim is one fun, rowdy drunk.
Allmusic.com * by Steve Leggett
Black Jake & the Carnies are a curious octet out of Ypsilanti, MI who specialize in a kind of raucous acoustic Americana that tosses post modern Appalachian murder ballads, Irish drinking songs, skewed, twisted love songs and general cautionary tales into a stylistic blender that has them sounding like nothing so much as a maverick, hopped-up punk polka band in full 21st Century everything-fits jug band mode. The band itself calls what it does "crabgrass," but although the instrumentation (banjo, guitar, mandolin, acoustic bass etc.) suggests bluegrass, the approach is something else again, and the supplementary instruments, which include washboard, train whistle, jug and all manner of odd percussion toys, make the Carnies something closer to a manic jug and string band from the previous century. Then there are the songs, which sound old and ancient but aren't, and which sound upbeat and joyous, but aren't, detailing instead a world full of death, murders, killings and all manner of intentional and unintentional mayhem. That the Carnies make all this go down like a Saturday night house party gone into overdrive is the real charm of their debut album. The songs themselves are all of a piece and listening to the eerie but still strangely comforting "Hunter's Moon," the explosive "Paper Outlaw," the wild, fiddle-driven "Bone Man" and the truly epic ten-minute title track "Where the Heather Don't Grow" is a bit like stepping through the looking glass. Things seem normal, but they decidedly aren't. Recorded by Jim Roll in his Ann Arbor living room, Where the Heather Don't Grow has an infectious and ragged immediacy about it, and while some bizarre and twisted stories are flying by in the lyrics, it's all so vibrant and full tilt that one can't help but smile. Dark stories never played so bright.