The creative union of Marquette, Michigan’s father/son duo Elliot and Ronnie Ferguson with Upper Peninsula Poet Laurate Marty Achatz has produced one of 2021’s truly unique efforts. Slow Dancing with Bigfoot’s fifteen tracks bring Achatz’s poetic gifts into full accord with the minimal, yet evocative, backing supplied by Streaking in Tongues. This DIY outing doesn’t have a wide production mandate but nonetheless captures the limited instrumentation and Achatz’s voice with consistent clarity.
The approach is straight-forward. Streaking in Tongues is always careful to provide the right amount of musical accompaniment because, first and foremost, they want to highlight Achatz’s words above all else. He begins each recitation with the poem’s title, a relatively needless gesture; Achatz is better advised to simply beginning reading. It is a small flaw that may not bother many listeners.
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at Bigfoot”, as a title, refers to the famous Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” and mimics its structure. The vivid details Achatz builds into this poem is one of its most compelling elements. There is a clipped quality to the language that many listeners will appreciate; Achatz isn’t the sort of writer who uses four words when one or two will do.
The tracks are brief and built around stark musical arrangements. The aforementioned opener has a simple guitar melody working alongside Achatz’s voice and the clear intent is to keep listener’s focus on Achatz’s words. His tendency to mix the everyday with the improbable is a hallmark of his style but never risks ostentation; the imagery is grounded here and elsewhere. There are no extended flights of self-indulgence where Achatz loses the listeners. His delivery is patient and takes great care with each line.
“Bigfoot Takes His Wife to Mount Rushmore for Their Honeymoon”, the album’s second track, underlines all the qualities mentioned earlier. The juxtaposition of this semi-legendary pop cultural figure, Bigfoot, with relatively mundane activities such as marriage and vacationing at a National Park is frequently used throughout Slow Dancing with Bigfoot and lightly comedic. The ability to marry pathos and humor so well sets Achatz apart from many peers and contemporaries.
There is a sense of over-exertion during some pieces. The poetics for Achatz’s “Bigfoot’s Heart” are a little overwrought with its description of Fay Wray’s cleavage as sparrows as an example. Others may not find it so. It is a sensitive and searching poem, however, and the exquisite acoustic guitar playing complements Achatz’s warm delivery. The album’s longest track, “Bigfoot and Jim Harrison Skinny Dip in Morgan Pond on Father’s Day”, is also one of its finest poems captured for posterity. He revisits his wont for namechecking older writers with this work and teaming Harrison with the iconic Sasquatch will elicit a few chuckles from knowing listeners. Some of his imagery here is among the finest you’ll hear in modern poetry or songwriting alike. It really is quite striking, even if you don’t know who Jim Harrison is.
“Catfish Have 27,000 Taste Buds” disarmingly begins with a bit of studio chatter before segueing into the music. His portrayal of a catfish’s life is melancholic, laced with his ever-present humor, and has a memorable ending. Written about former Nirvana front-man Kurt Cobain, Achatz throws Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and even Amy Winehouse into “Ode to Kurt’s Ashes in McLane Creek” as Achatz broods over Kurt’s death. He invokes the drug abuse that haunted Cobain’s life with chilling accuracy.
There are a wealth of riches awaiting listeners on this release. Streaking in Tongues and Marty Achatz’s Slow Dancing with Bigfoot demands to be explored.