Jenny from Thebes began its life as many albums by the Mountain Goats do, with John Darnielle playing the piano until a lyric emerged. That lyric, “Jenny was a warrior / Jenny was a thief / Jenny hit the corner clinic begging for relief,” became “Jenny III,” a song which laid down a challenge he’d never taken up before: writing a sequel to one of his most beloved albums.
The Mountain Goats’ catalog is thick with recurring characters Jenny, who originally appears in the All Hail West Texas track bearing her name, as well as in “Straight Six” from Jam Eater Blues and Transcendental Youth side two jam “Night Light,” is one of these, someone who enters a song unexpectedly, pricking up the ears of fans who are keen on continuing the various narrative threads running through the Mountain Goats’ discography before vanishing into the mist. In these songs, Jenny is largely defined by her absence, and she is given that definition by other characters. She is running from something. These features are beguiling, both to the characters who’ve told her story so far and to the listener. They invite certain questions: Who is Jenny, really? What is she running from? Well, she’s a warrior and a thief, and, this being an album by the Mountain Goats, it’s a safe bet whatever she’s fleeing is something bad. Something catastrophically bad.
Jenny from Thebes is the story of Jenny, her southwestern ranch style house, the people for whom that house is a place of safety, and the west Texas town that is uncomfortable with its existence. It is a story about the individual and society, about safety and shelter and those who choose to provide care when nobody else will.
Recorded at Tulsa, Oklahoma’s legendary The Church Studio with Grammy-winning producer/engineer Trina Shoemaker, Jenny from Thebes is a lush collection of showtunes, pushing Darnielle as a vocalist and the Mountain Goats as a band, broadening their sonic palette once again by leaning into influences like Godspell, Jim Steinman, and The Cars.
Lifted by Matt Douglas’ horn and string arrangements, the dreamy guitar of Bully leader (and Bleed Out producer) Alicia Bognanno, and backing vocals from Kathy Valentine of The Go-Go’s and Matt Nathanson, Jenny from Thebes is a widescreen musical in scope, a melodrama of richly detailed characters and sweeping emotions.
1. Clean Slate
2. Ground Level
3. Only One Way
4. Fresh Tattoo
5. Cleaning Crew
6. Murder at the 18th St. Garage
7. From the Nebraska Plant
8. Same as Cash
9. Water Tower
10. Jenny III
11. Going to Dallas
12. Great Pirates