Review Summary: Folk songs for everybody
Lately I’ve lost my writing mojo, at least when it comes to writing about music. Even new albums that truly excite me haven’t been able to get me out of this rut. Seemingly every time I sit down to write something, all original ideas I might’ve had instantly disappear and all I hear is the echo of wind and hollow thoughts in my head. To fix the situation, I’ve been turning towards things and narratives that I connect with the most in order to bring back some of the vigor and creativity that dated teaching methods in universities have undoubtedly robbed me of. The theme of nature is one such narrative. Despite being born and raised mainly as a city-boy, I’ve always felt the call of nature and land and have never been too great a fan of the big city life. Coincidentally, when it comes to music, even the simplest, hell, even faux-folk melodies almost always catch my attention. I’ve spent way more time in nature lately and in correlation with it, have also been listening to more organic, folky music next to to my everyday genre of choice, which would be metal. One could ask that what is the point of this candid, yet seemingly extraneous intro. My answer: it’s honest and open, just like this album, Folk Songs of the American Longhair
Brother Dege is a one of a kind character with a colorful background. The man has worked as a cabdriver, machinist, case worker in a homeless shelter, fry cook, journalist and has dabbled in many other professions as well. One thing Dege has always had going for him, though, is his pervasive love of music. Being the leader of an underground psychedelic rock group Santeria for over a decade from the mid-1990s to late 2000s, he encompasses a strong rock background that he applies to his present day solo work which has its roots in delta blues. This is best exhibited in the album’s most famous song "Too Old To Die Young", which stars on the Django Unchained soundtrack and has an already strong bluesy melody torched with some killer southern rock flair. It is the album’s most rock ’n’ roll cut, but definitely not a sole standout, as the record is filled to the brim with excellent neo-blues tunes that form a heartfelt homage to the roots music of the Deep South. Musically, though, Folk Songs of the American Longhair
is much more than a sincere homage. It may be straightforward in its approach, with Dege’s slide guitar playing and bass drum kicks making up the instrumental part of most songs, but the playing itself is crafty, soulful and full of raw energy. Using the slide guitar technique, Dege is able to play around with all sorts of pitches and tones to keep the songs entertaining and fresh. For example, the 8-minute country epic "House of The Dying Sun" with its minimalistic approach absolutely dazzles due to Dege’s charisma and superb melody choices.
Lyrically, Folk Songs of the American Longhair
is every bit as honest as its music sounds. Dege doesn’t throw grand ideas, philosophical revelations or pathos-loaded statements at the listener. Surprisingly, even the life of the South (whether past or present) isn’t portrayed in too great detail on this otherwise southern-fried album (although southern slang and pronunciation are instantly recognizable in the vocals). Instead, Brother Dege immerses us with personal tales and ponderings about everyday life, but does so in a clever, often metaphorical way. He’s not trying to win anybody over or share universal truths to the listener. Just like the album’s title insinuates, these are purely his songs that represent his questions which give a glimpse into the world of Brother Dege, where thoughts about god, faith, morality and fate reign free.
Folk Songs of the American Longhair
has pretty much everything you could want from a 21st century country-blues album. An earnest record with real personality, it features soulfulness in symbiosis with grit and a touch of rock ’n’ roll. It is a homage to the (musical) culture Dege was exposed to growing up as well as a southern man’s artistic expression – a modern take on a classic sound that is easily lovable and relatable. It’s organic (the album was recorded in a shed) but also meaty and produced to near-perfection, bearing a thick, groovy sound associated with southern rock artists. Folk Songs of the American Longhair
avoids all cliches and pitfalls usually associated with modern country-tinged music and its mixture of blues, roots music and rock ’n’ roll is unexpectedly refreshing. At times there are supplemental instruments like djembe and bass guitar used as well, but the spotlight is always on Dege’s guitar playing and his raspy voice – both charismatic enough to carry this album with ease. There’s no pretentiousness involved and Dege isn’t trying to achieve anything other than self-expression of the highest quality. Folk Songs of the American Longhair
just sees a man armed with a guitar, singing about life over some sweet southern tunes, and isn’t that just great? The most straightforward forms of music are sometimes the most enjoyable and invigorating.