THROUGH THE LONG summer of 2015, brothers Trent and Chase Williams travelled the mountains of Colorado in a camper van recording the Saddle Of Southern Darkness self-titled folk/bluegrass debut, powered only by a generator. It’s a good story.
The resultant album is a dense but accessible tapestry of dark imagery, death songs and black humour, punctuated by moments of dialogue presumably from old cowboy movies.
This rough-hewn gem of Americana straddles a fine balance between the ominous and a subtle comedic streak that’s never far from the surface. Its sometimes cavernous vocal reverbs invoke the story-telling records of old which featured characters such as Butch Cassidy or the Lone Ranger investigating ghostly situations which would creep me out as a five-year-old. Saddle of Southern Darkness creep me out as a 49-year-old, but in a good way.
The initial bars put me in the mind of the first series of True Detective, and indeed the deathly musical folk tales of The Handsome Family. ‘Compelled To Dig’ set the tone immediately with its overtones of ‘50s Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein and the narrator’s similar and shared proclivities, such as moving bones from crypt to crypt and ‘constructing flesh to dim the light’.
In one of the highlights, ‘Blasphemous Bill’, the hero stumbles on some
bones and ‘Bill began his courtship with the dead’. This cast my mind back to when entertaining songsmiths like Alice Cooper could indulge their ghastly obsessions by refrigerator light and we all took it in fun and egged them on. After all, fiction is fiction.
Elsewhere on this bloodletting beauty, we are treated to evocative images like ‘Shallow graves left without a name’ and ‘I’d spent hours working on a tool to kill’, which is from the fabulous ‘Hangin’ In A Tree’ – a semi-comedy romp documenting a man’s failed attempts to hang himself. But I can’t relate, as I feel this subject matter has provided me with more than enough rope to accomplish the task quite successfully.
But just when a song shadow looms over you, you’ll suddenly be snapped out of it with lines like that in ‘Numb’ – ‘I keep seein’ visions that end with me fallin’ down’. The closer ‘Running On Fumes’, a delightful ode to drinking in the desert, has the narrator complain ‘I stumble and fall to my knees’. In fact the characters in these songs fall over quite frequently. It must be all the booze, weed and nervousness generated from making light-shades of human flesh.
As alluded to earlier, it’s all for the purposes of entertainment and escapism. Saddle Of Southern Darkness provide their own moral in ‘Sounds Of Darkness’ when they admit, ‘I’m compelled by sounds of darkness, For some reason it eases the mind’. I wholeheartedly agree. PETER KEARNS
Music = 4/5