Review Summary: Great alternative country gets a rough start with Sackcloth 'n' Ashes. Good music featured here but not compared to what 16 Horsepower will go on to do.1 of 1 thought this review was well writtenNote: While their "official" debut 16 Horsepower came out the year prior to this, it contained only 6 songs, thus making it more of a consideration for the role of being an EP, and not a full length release
Oh no, I was afraid this was gonna happen.
The debut full length is a three way street really. It can be received as bland and just flat out bad, this can ruin a band's career and their dreams of making it in the music business. Another way shows the band peaking on their first release, showing signs of originality and quality that would only be featured on this release, and when the career of that group is over, people will reflect back to that first album and call it their highlight. The third option however applies to many great bands, to release a "good" album first, but from there only go on to drastically improve and continue on. That street is the one taken by 16 Horsepower circa 1996, years before releasing the varied and glowing Cd's Folklure
and Secret South
; the material presented here does show quality, but a quality that sounds the same throughout. Vocalist/guitarist David Eugene Edwards has the voice that would put him on top of the singing world, and this is the first crack that has been granted to hear it in its early stages.
Of course what does good mean really, I mean if it's good why is the tag applied in a condescending manner? Well the reason being for this is the material and realization of talent and overall expanding of the bands sound which would be featured in latter works by far surpasses the material presented here. Sure it could be taken in the context that this is the child before the man; the band has growing up to do, but the child presented in the previous metaphor is no ordinary child. The child is rather a gifted one, going to Berklee at age 12, learning piano from Art Tatum at 15; all the potential in the world is surrounding this child and it is because of the talent it possesses, but cannot show at this early age. Ah ha, the metaphor becomes an analogy as 16 Horsepower show their teeth but cannot chomp down just yet, the learning process will come, but that does not make Sackcloth 'n' Ashes
any less enjoyable.
So what did 16 Horsepower do correctly on this release? One thing that remains constant with this band is that there are no problems with the vocal duties regarding who will perform them or the quality of them. 16 Horsepower have always been powered by not only the multiple instrumentalist that is David Eugene Edwards, but his spectacular singing voice, one that has great range and tone. Need proof? give a listen to Heel on the Shovel
and listen to the usually lower sounding Edwards raise it a bit to fit the lighter sounding mood of the song. Not a song light and fluffy per se, but it is raised from the murk sounds of the previous 8 tunes. The image of digging is brought up by the title but how would it be used? "I'm diggin' you a shallow grave/an to the sun your face I'll raise/I'm diggin' you a shallow grave/one hundred buzzards buzzin'"
Yes, while lyrically this remains a dark number, the uplifting guitar leads over the bridges and throughout the number balances the song well.
The sounds of murk were mentioned in association with the first several tracks could be a cause for concern, but even in their early stages the group knows how to make murk into music that is easy to be listened to. One song that shines with light in the field of the murk is [Black Soul Choir
. Following the pattern of song title dictating sound, or rather starting it; Black Soul Choir, drummer Jean-Yves Tola gets the rare start of a track and does it with the other undervalued member, Kevin Soll soon to follow in on bass. Banjo is the instrument of choice for Edwards here, and so is delivering one of his most outgoing and loud vocal performances so far. "Every man is evil yes an every man is a liar"
cried out Edwards, "an unashamed with the wicked tongues sing/in the black soul choir"
. Blazing through the song with banjo in hand the a great supporting cast, Black Soul Choir
is a highlight from Sackcloth 'n' Ashes
As seen in the previous song, Edwards is not afraid to express himself through the group's lyrically, and on this record he gets the occasional chance to let his beliefs be known. His platform for this is in the song American Wheeze
which begins with one of the more unusual instruments used by the group, the bandoneón, and being followed up with violin only adds to the unique charm of the song and band. " the little angel held out her hand/sayin' father, father i love you/o praise Jesus i got her"
. With theme in hand and with a very folk-y (but not traditional acoustic guitar and bad singer lineup) and out in the country mixed with God references and electric guitar backgrounds, American Wheeze
shows very good signs of the bands coming along, and much of the potential for their ability to be and sound different are explored here.
The potential is heard on the disc, and while some of the additional listening may provide with some sweet songs, the overall sounds like it just drags along. Definitely their longest release with 14 tracks, this stretches a bit far for being from this band and some of the stretch marks are listenable. Overall its a good release with some great tracks, but what would follow is much greater than this. If you really are into alternative Americana or alternative country, this if for you; it may be a stretch if you are unfamiliar with those genres or just haven't heard any of it yet however.