thinline3I'm fascinated over musicians who one day play metal and the next day begin to play bluegrass. Well, not exactly bluegrass. This particular kind of bluegrass is better known as trashgrass, streetgrass, punkgrass, speedgrass, murdergrass and other prefix-grass. Labels are often used profusely both diligently and resourcefully. At first glance, the shift may seem like a giant leap, but in fact it's a small step. We start with two questions: First of all: why change style in the first place? The main reason seems to be that metalheads tends to get bored with the head banging and therefore seeks a more traditional and true expression. Second: how is the dramatic change in style possible? The bluegrass genre is open and tolerant. Long-haired musicians can easily find refuge within the liberal bluegrass community. This facilitates the transition. Other factors are the intensity and drive in the two genres, but also the improvisation. One or more instruments each takes its turn playing the melody and more or less improvising around it, while the others perform accompaniment. In the good old days, you could hear bass and drum solos in metal music. Nowadays, the guitar seems to reign. There are many bands that more or less fit the bill of transition, for example .357 String Band, Highlonesome, The Goddamn Gallows, Devout Sinners, The Pine Box Boys, Filthy Still, The Calamity Cubes, Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy and Trampled By Turtles. There's a quote in "High Fidelity" by Nick Hornby of how the protagonist's music taste evolved "I can tell you how I got from Deep Purple to Howling Wolf in just 25 moves". From metal to prefix-grass is only one small step. "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind".

 

 

shyghostsSpotify recently launched an attack on free and independent research. A research team from Umeå University in Sweden were minding their own business and conducted research within their project "streaming heritage". They mapped Spotify's algorithms by creating a large number of profiles and then studied the music recommendations for these profiles. Spotify didn't hang around a long time. They contacted the project leader, a professor, and questioned the working methods. Howwever, Spotify would not agree to meet and discuss the matter. Instead, they contacted the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet), a public agency under the authority of the Ministry of Education and Research who funded the study. Spotify tried the language of force. Their spineless laywer wrote: "Spotify is particularly concerned about the information that has emerged regarding the research group’s methods in the project. The data indicate that the research team has deliberately taken action that is explicitly in violation of Spotify’s Terms of Use and by means of technical methods sought to conceal these breach of conditions. The research group has expanded, among other things, to artificially increase the number of gigs and manipulate Spotify’s services using script or other automated processes. Spotify assumes that the systematic breach of conditions has not been known to the Swedish Research Council and is convinced that the Swedish Research Council is convinced that the research undertaken with the support of the Swedish Research Council in all respects meets ethical guidelines and is carried out reasonably and in accordance with applicable law." Why the high pitch? Maybe because one of the researchers was insensitive enough to point out the fact that an early version of Spotify was built upon pirated mp3-files. This stain doesn't fit the untruthful storytelling of Spotify. Anyway, media soon picked up the story and Spotify was accused of threating free and independent research. The Spotify lawyer made history when he without any inhibition mixed terms of service, research ethics and national law. Spotify later claimed that the threat was a misunderstanding. And how did the Swedish Research Council react? Basically, they told Spotify to go home and "gratify" themselves.

 

 

shyghostsChristian Williams disappeared from the gothic country radar when he completely (in the true sense of the word) changed his musical direction a couple of years ago. His new music sounds like Karlheinz Stockhausen meets Brian Eno. Therefore, I was very surprised when he released an album with tratitional music a month ago. You can listen and buy the album digitally in the format of your choice at Bandcamp, just click here (opens in a new window). The price is set according to the "name your price"-principle. The title is a nod to Guglielmo Marconi, the Italian inventor and electrical engineer known for his pioneering work on long-distance radio transmission. The background to the album idea and the title are as follows. Christian Williams prepared a set list to a solo show in Lawrence, KS. One of the songs was the traditional song "Rye Whiskey". Christian Williams decided to rearrange the music and came up with a totally different melody and chord progression. One thing led to another and he got interested in putting together a new album. In an e-mail Christian Wiliams explains: "I didn't want to agonize over what the songs should be about, though, so I just decided to collect more words already written. Once I spent some time reading and thinking about the lyrics, I'd start to hear a melody in my head and as soon as I found out that it worked with the meter of the lyrics, I'd made a quick recording of the song with my iPhone." The plan was to treat the recordings as demos and take them into a studio and record them professionally. But as he kept listening to the recordings over and over, the rawness of the songs grew on him. He realized that those recordings were as close as he was ever going to get to the initial point of inspiration. Some of the recordings were literally made in the moment. In the e-mail Christian Wiliams explains the choice of title: "I felt compelled to tip my cap to Marconi and the technological advancement that made it possible for me to come up with a song, record it through my phone, and instantly be able to transmit across the globe." 

 

cw home studioThe album "Marconi" is less than 25 minutes long and contains seven songs. The first song is the above-mentioned song "Rye Whisky". It has been recorded twice by Christian Williams (On "The Long Winter - Vol 1: B-sides and Alternate Takes" and "For My Mind It Was Flying"). This version, however, is more built around the vocals. The second song is "In the Shadow of the Pines". Words by Hattie Lummis (1895) and adapted by The Carter Family. The pace is faster and the melody structure is more addictive than the reference recording with The Carter Family. "Oh, darling, come love me as before / Come back to leave me nevermore / At that spot I'm sad and lonely / And the sun no longer shines / Come and meet me in the shadow of the pines." The third song is "One Little Word". The song is of unknown origin. There's not much bluegrass left in the arrangement, but the song is tastefully adapted. The fourth song is "Train 45". The song is traditional. This version goes somewhat slower than most versions and is more twangy. The fifth song is "Waterbound". The song is new (2004) and is written by Dirk Powell. The original song is great. This version goes slower with more emphasis on the lyrics. The verses also comes in a different order than on the original recording. The sixth song is "Who's Going Down". This is a traditional bluegrass tune of unknown origin. Sometimes referred to as "Who's Going Down to Town". This version goes significant slower than most versions and has more emphasis on the chorus. The seventh and last song is "There's No One Like Mother". Words by Charles A. Davies (1877) and made popular by The Carter Family. Sometimes referred to as "There's No One Like Mother To Me". This version is more driving and melodic than the standard reference recording with The Carter Family. And what's the overall assessment of the album? My starting point is the notion that if you got nothing new to bring to the table, don't start any projects. Lyrics and music are often a indivisible whole. The words for these songs already written and widely known. But they are properly reworked and restored by Christian Williams. The idea for this project was to set his own music to the words. His interpretations are traditional and innovative at the same time. The recordings reminds me of the fact of how different a song can be with just a different arrangement. In my opinion and despite being almost a audiophile, the rawness and simplicity gives the songs an aura of field recordings. Christian Williams really knows what he's doing and has done a bang up job. The recordings also reminds me of how close concepts like "traditional" and "gothic" really are.

 

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Christian Williams is one of the stalwarts of the gothic country genre. Should we get our hopes up or was this only a one-off recording? In the e-mail Christian Wiliams writes: "As far whether or not this is a one-off recording, my guess is that I'll probably do another album like this again. Right now, I'm more focused on painting and some other non-folk music projects, but I really did enjoy the process of working with these words and making new music for them. They represent my contribution to the long tradition in folk music of keeping old songs alive by borrowing, combining, and reworking the words and music so they can become truly timeless." Anyway, Christian Williams gothic prairie country is sorely missed.

  

  

shyghostsT.K. Bollinger is a very productive man. "Shy Ghosts" was released in January 2016. It totally knocked me off my feet. The album was ranked as number two on my prestigious list 10 gloomiest album ever (opens in a new window), which is an achievement considering the fierce competition. Today he releasd a new album with the long title "What’s Left Now You Are Dead to Me". At the moment the album is only available in digital format. T.K. Bollinger has initiated a fund raising campaign for a physical release, read more on his website (see bottom). T.K. Bollinger has been around in different musical projects since Jesus wore shorts. In my opinion, he goes from strength to strength. The new album contains 16 songs. It's nearly 70 minutes long. The new album in his own words: "This 16 song collection continues to explore t.k. bollinger’s usual dark terrain, though with a little more lushness than 2016’s Shy Ghosts. The stripped back minimalism is still there...the atmosphere has thickened and accordingly the sonic texture has become much richer." Very well formulated. "What’s Left Now You Are Dead to Me" has a slightly warmer tone and and a more full-bodied soundscape. Phrases like a "slightly warmer tone" and a "more full-bodied soundscape" are dependent on the context. In the world of T.K. Bollinger "slightly warmer tone" means that the music and lyrics are still dark, but not as pitch-black as "Shy Ghost" and a "more full-bodied soundscape" doesn't mean that the album is over-produced. It just means that it's not as stripped-down, sparsely instrumented and simply arranged as the former album. Let's go over and dissect the album.

 

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The first song is "A Life of Fear". It's a grand album opener. T.K. Bollinger sings in a slow and almost excessive dark way, with a strong emphasis on the lyrics. The distinct articulation seems to be meant to leave a lasting imprint on the listener's cerebral cortex. "I’ve worn this millstone / as a milestone / Courted the lie / that’s in belief / I came to see / But seeing / knocked the sight from me / And lost the will / to simply be / Now fear rule me". The opening song has all the desirable attributes of the modern T.K. Bollinger. A very promising beginning, indeed. The second song is "Hope Like Time Flies". The song is utterly beautiful. It's centered around restrained vocals and unfolds in a delicate way. The song ends: "It’s sad but it’s true / You decided to stay still knowing / things might never change / Sing to me in th e dark of sorrow / so I might find hope again." Not the most gothic of songs, but I like it. The third song "It's Just Changed" begins ambigiously with the lines "Don’t shoot the messenger / You may have heard me wrong". A mourning guitar lingers in the background and then fades away followed by vocals. The song structure is repeated. "All you lack is the will, to face another day." This is quality. The artist is no stranger to drown-out tones, feedback and reverb. In the fourth song "Shovelling/Struggling" T.K. Bollinger explores the boundaries. The first four songs constitutes a splendid beginning of the album. However, the fifth ("Offside Landing") and sixth songs ("The Mess I've Made") are surprisingly weak. The order is restored in the seventh song "The More I See The Less I Want”. The title alone makes the song great. The song is perfectly calibrated. Elaborated arrangements, fine tuned vocals and, last but not least, well-written lyrics: "The more I see, the less I want / The less it bothers me I always have enough / I’ve had enough". The eight song ”Enough Rope” is one of the best songs on the album. A hymnal melody structure and pounding drums. The lyrics are brilliant "We always thought we played for time / Not really knowing it was playing us / One day we’ll figure it out / If we’re given enough rope." 

  

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The ninth song "The Way It's Always Been" doesn't have the usual characteristics of the artist. No doom or gloom. Instead the song has a kind of british pop influence and a warmer tone. You immediately want to sing along in the song, but the lyrics aren't that cheerful. The tenth song "May Death Come Welcome" is a highlight and one of best songs on the album. The song has all the trademarks of T.K. Bollinger: bold idea, fearless approach and solid implementation. "Death, she’ll come to me like a lover / Not as a stranger or some terror to be feared." Sensitive and hard at the same time. The eleventh song "Dark As Night, Sweet As Sin" begins dreamy and becomes almost esoteric. The song is languorous and never really lifts off. The twelfth song is "Stranger's Shout". The song begins pompously. On the whole, it's a beautiful song with great lyrics. No lack of honesty or self disclosure. The song ends with the repeating chorus "I lost the best of me". The album "What’s Left Now You Are Dead to Me" reaches its climax in the thirteenth song, "Bonded by Blood. In this song T.K. Bollinger pull out all the stops. The song unfolds slowly but surely. The lyrics are impeccable: "And take up our legacy / passed to daughter and son: / A loving kiss; an unruly fist; / This crude heart, bonded by blood. / So take up your legacy / All you daughters and sons: / A carefree kiss; an unruly fist; / Indelible, bonded by blood. / This crude heart, bonded by blood." The fourteenth song is "Where We Walked Today". Similar to "The Way It's Always Been" it doesn't have the usual T.K Bollinger characteristics, which doesn't mean that it's bad. On the contrary, it's a very good song. The lyrics are above than average self-reflecting and sentimental. The song ends with: "And while you can’t go and I can’t stay / We can still cherish where we walked today. / Here ends my road, we must part ways / And you must cherish where we walked today." An rather odd song, more like a closing song in a movie. Here is where you think the album has come to an end. But there are actually two more songs on the album. The last song on an album is very important. It concludes what the artist want to say with the album and should also have a close connection to the themes and a scent of the atmospere on the album. I'm a bit puzzled over the ending of the album. The last two songs "The Same Tears" and "Can't Promise You Anything" are, compared with the other songs on the album, a bit insipid and their placement makes the album fade out anonymously and almost unnoticeable. I'm calling for a more pronounced ending, not necessarily like the ending in Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture with full cannons, but a slightly more pronounced ending.  

And finally, the overall assessment. This a another great album from T.K. Bollinger. It's not as dark and gloomy as "Shy Ghosts", but contains more than enough of darkness and gloominess to outperform most other artists and bands in the genre. The album is filled with moments of great songwriting, thoughtful arrangements and skillful production. On the downside, it's not as coherent as its predecessor, "Shy Ghosts". Maybe, the album would have benefitted from skipping a couple of songs. But what do I know. I'm only a swedish civil servant with an internet connection. Faithful followers of this blog knows that I'm pessimistic regarding the future of the gothic country genre. If there be light, then there is darkness. It seems like the light in the dark comes from Melbourne, Australia.      

 

If you click on the icons below they will open in a new window, from left to right: Lyrics for "What’s Left Now You Are Dead to Me", T.K. Bollinger's Facebook page, T.K. Bollinger's Homepage and Press kit for "What’s Left Now You Are Dead to Me".

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Press Kit

 

 

CSNWell, it seems like all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. How else could you explain the event Southern Gothic Campout - a music festival dedicated to dark roots music? To my knowledge there's never been a festival dedicated to dark roots music. I didn't see it coming. It's quite unlikely. After all, the gothic country genre peaked artistically and in terms of (small but dedicated) audience already in 2007, read more here (opens in a new window). But people will play and people will come to Adams, TN in November. However, I will not be attending. I have not much to say in my defense. Now is the time when I should go on my long awaited Grand Tour to the US. The purpose of the visit would be to explore the darkest corners of the US including illegal snake handling while listening to gothic country music. Instead of going, I blame a strained work situation and I hide myself behind phrases like “at the appropriate juncture, in due course, in the fullness of time”. It's a lame excuse.  Who knows, maybe I will go to an all-inclusive resort in Florida instead. A resort for old people.   

 

CSNThe choice of location is very intriguing. Adams, TN is located in the middle of nowhere. Located off of I-24, just 30 minutes from Nashville. The population is 633 people (2010). The "venue" is Red River Valley Canoe Rentals, a family-owned business that has been providing exciting river rides to novice and experienced paddlers for over 30 years, read more here (opens in a new window). The venue may be located in the middle of nowhere, but the place is very famous in Southern folklore. It's the home of the Bell Witch, read more here (opens in a new window). Executive summary: The Bell family resided along the Red River in northwest Robertson County in an area currently within the town of Adams. According to the legend, from 1817-1821, the Bell family came under attack by an invisible entity subsequently described as a witch. It is said that she murdered the farmer John Bell. It is the only recorded murder by a ghost in US history. The entity was able to speak, affect the physical environment and shift forms. According to some sources the entity had the capability to be in more than one place at a time, cross distances with rapid speed and the power of prophecy. Furthermore, you can take a challenging float past the famous Bell Witch Cave, read more here (opens in a new window). 

 

sgc bandThe event is hosted by Muddy Rooots Music Events. The bands that will be performing are no less than Those Poor Bastards, Sons of Perdition, Viva Le Vox, Reverend Red, Noah Tyson (ex-Highlonesome) and Freight Train Rabbit Killer (never heard of them, but they are probably good). More bands are to be announced. If Slackeye Slim and The Dad Horse Experience were added to the list I would reconsider my decision not to attend. This would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them live and maybe The Highwaymen of Gothic Country, read more here (opens in a new window). As I mentioned, more bands are to be announced. The event is only a month away. This is the Dark roots Southern Gothic campout first edition with a very renowned lineup, to say the least. The event has received a very positive response. At the moment, there are 154 people going and 749 people interested in the event according to the Southern Gothic Campout Facebook-page. There's a small but dedicated crowd out there. Faiftful followers of this website knows that I'm pessimistic about the future for the genre. The gothic country genre is endangered and at risk of extinction. The regrowth is close to zero. The field lies open for tiresome epigones and they are really on the move. However, there's a time and context for everything. I suspect that the best years have come and gone for the genre. But this event reverses the theory and the empirical evidence. Maybe there's still some hope for the genre. Southern Gothic Campout may in fact be a sign of strength. And maybe the Bell Witch will return. After all, it takes place at the Bell Witch homeground. Let’s hope for the best, prepare for the worst and plan to be surprised. I will follow this extraordinary event from a safe distance, namely 7 382 km (4 587 miles). We swedes are strangers to camping in November. I already know that I will regret my decision intensly and bitterly. Well, you have to live with the choices you make in life.   

 

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