The Shovel vs The Howling Bones
added: 15 Jan 2012
// release date: 30 Jan 2012 // label: Rayburn
reviewer: Andy Snipper
Debut albums aren’t supposed to be this confident and powerful – or as good.
A pair of eyes stare out at you from the cover, at once glaring and angry but with a spark of an amused guffaw – this is just daring you to look under the cover and hear his stories. And great stories they are too, tales of hard life and hard work but tales of hard play and hard love as well.
Musically he cinches right into that hardship with a tough, harsh and resonant voice and strident playing – this is Southern Texas writ in blood and stone.
But all through there is a sense of pride and joy and even of fun. When he sings of ‘Clementine’ he is asking her not to cry but coupling it with gentle playing and a tuneful voice in opposition to the opener ‘Drifting Wood’ where his rasping voice is calling to the river to “have mercy, mercy on the drifting wood”.
This whole album sounds as though it could have been recorded anytime from back in the days of the depression through the hard days of the fifties or in the revolution of the ‘60’s but it could only come from the hardlands of southern Texas. There is a quote in the liner notes that sums this up brilliantly:”Recorded at George Reiff studios using early to mid-century Gibsons, Kays, Silvertones, Voss, Bell & Howells, guitars found in potted plants, cardboard boxes, bird feeders, oil pans, hacksaws, feet and anything else that would make a noise” – you can hear all that in here and it still makes for musical satisfaction but doesn’t overshadow wither his voice or his songs.
When he plays hard his guitar is right alongside his vocal, underpinning his Texas drawl but emphasising it as well and I can hear the likes of Son House proclaiming through his songs,
I love to listen to tracks like ‘Mud Puddles’ where a simple repetitive drum beat sits behind his playing on a 1929 Gibson with a harmonica howling quietly behind his vocal – the dense and almost impenetrable sound is almost touchable.
Eleven tracks and eleven different takes on his raw Blues but there isn’t a single track that doesn’t deserve a place on any medium I happen to be listening through. This guy is a rare talent, even more so as there are so many playing this style of music without a tenth of his quality and a hundred times les integrity.
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