Review Summary: Aren't we all just guts n' teeth?Guts n’ Teeth
is not the sort of album I’d usually enjoy. Judge if you must, but I think that we all have certain musical turnoffs that are just impossible to move past. One of mine is the vocal style so prevalent in country and bluegrass music that is referred to as the “southern drawl”. At best, I can tolerate it. At worst, it annoys me to the point that I can’t even appreciate the music for what it is, based on its merits. I’ve undoubtedly missed out on quite a lot of great music because of this, but I don’t care. I’m not exactly sure why, but when I hear a drawl, I see red. Plain and simple.
Enter Old Man Markley.
Hailing from Los Angeles, Old Man Markley is a nine-piece band that plays what can best be described as a hybrid of punk and bluegrass music. At any given moment of Guts n’ Teeth
, the listener will find themselves in the middle of a smorgasbord of (perfectly executed) bluegrass clichés. The fiddle player saws away with her bow, the banjo player chicken-picks like a madman, the mandolin strings click away in the background, and a harmonica line soars overhead. And then there's the vocals. Oh dear.
But wait! I’m not seeing red! My head isn’t becoming clouded with thoughts of massacring the entire “deep south” of the USA! Instead of punching holes in my drywall, I’m tapping my toes and slapping my knee uncontrollably. What’s going on!? It’s not that the band avoids the use of the dreaded drawl, far from it; some of the vocals have me reaching for the XXX moonshine and calling up my first cousin to ask her what she’s wearing. The thing is, Old Man Markley’s music is so full of energy, it’s nearly impossible to not be swept away into the upbeat atmosphere that the album creates. This is where the punk influence really starts to show. At times, frontman Johnny Carey’s vocals are closer to a gruff punky yelp than a bluegrass drawl. The variation in this area stops the album from ever feeling stale, or from feeling like the band is just recycling the same handful of ideas over and over.
Some of you may be like me. Maybe the drawl isn’t your thing. Maybe it reminds you of Jeff Foxworthy and his stupid fu
cking “You might be a redneck…” jokes. Well, sure, I was skeptical on first listen. But even the most cold-hearted of hipster elitists would eventually break down and start singing along at some point while listening to this album. Whether it’s during the catchy and relatable chorus of Running Weight
(I’m paranoid/ When you’re running this much weight, you can’t avoid/ getting paranoid/ Worries crash into me like an asteroid) or the fast-paced romp that is Do Me Like You Do
, trust me, it will happen, likely sooner rather than later.
The most probable point of infatuation with this record however, lies within the title track. The song Guts n’ Teeth
begins with a simple chord progression on an acoustic guitar before Johnny Carey’s voice comes in and takes centre stage. Carey’s lyrics on this cut stand above the rest of the album, and his vocal delivery supplements the sparse instrumentation perfectly. I challenge you to listen to this song, if nothing else from the album, and not be touched by his lyrics:
I still see my actions ripple/ Grinding hope stones into sand/Losing too much kills the lion/ Makes mice of many men.
I watched you suffer too/ Stuck steadfast to beliefs/ And I’m apart from it/ But woe is me.
And after all underneath/ Ain’t we all just guts and teeth?/ Ain’t we all just reflections?/ Moving in separate directions/ In our heads, out of our minds and out of time…
Old Man Markley’s debut is a stunning achievement. The marriage of the instrumentation of bluegrass music with the attitude and desperation of punk on Guts n' Teeth is not only perfectly executed, but relatively unique. (I’m clearly no expert, but think Against Me! plus a banjo player, with Larry the Cable guy sharing lead vocals.)
And as for my pre-conceived notions about country/bluegrass vocals, well, aren’t we all just guts n’ teeth? It’s all just music, and Old Man Markley’s speaks for itself.
For Better For Worse
At The Bottom
Guts n' Teeth
Do Me Like You Do
Living and Learning