Few working artists have accumulated a richer body of lore than the Mountain Goats. Across a vast catalog spanning more than 30 years, John Darnielle has developed a mythology with enough recurring characters and references to fill its own Wiki and support a number of dedicated blogs and podcasts. The Sophoclean title of new album Jenny From Thebes announces it as a continuation of the myth cycle. A sequel to Darnielle’s 2002 lo-fi masterpiece All Hail West Texas, his latest album revisits some of the most beloved characters and settings in the Mountain Goats universe.
That earlier album was a loose collection of story fragments about down-and-out people; making out the whole picture required some close reading. Jenny From Thebes doesn’t continue the story so much as fill out its absent center: Jenny, a recovering addict who runs a safehouse in a small West Texas town. When Jenny has appeared in other Mountain Goats songs, she has functioned as a vague emblem of freedom: riding in on her custom Kawasaki motorcycle, promising escape. These songs bring Jenny back down to the sordid everyday while also imbuing that desperate reality with the soft glow of magic.