A horrible hack

Cold Water

Wolf Willow

Year Released: 2013
Format: 7"
Label: Revolution Winter
Reviewed by Edward Ling on May 15, 2013
First thing to say is that this is solid, artfully produced, alt/country, with a few modern touches, but in the best of traditions. Released primarily as an old school single on vinyl, the A side (Wolf Willow) is steel guitar heavy, atmospheric, and very Nick Cave. The B side (Buffalo Beans) is sparse and melancholy, at turns intense and pained, primarily instrumental with only a couple of tarry vocal outbursts. The bonus download-only track (Proud Faces) is a upbeat boom chikka boom country number, and nicely done. Lyrically it’s shot through with the kind of dark bible belt imagery you’d expect from this type of thing – thrones, death, landscape. The song titles are pitch-perfect evocative of the genre, and the gruff, scarred-flat baritone vocals complete the set.

However. Second thing to say is that this is not the work a time served vet of the folk and punk scenes, but rather the work of an arty kid in is his mid twenties – Kevin Stebner of Calgary’s Stalwart Sons. He's an undeniably talented chap, a bit of a stylistic polymath, and does a very good turn.

I guess you’d plot this somewhere in a triangle with Johnny Cash at the top, Nick Cave and Tom Waits down at the other two corners. And it’d be very near the point marked “Johnny Cash”. Now this is where it gets tricky. The greater part of the magnetism of the work of Mr Cash or Tom Waits was that you heard their experience, their depth in the music – a voice like crows swirling over the prairie or the echo of a ten thousand nights in sleazy bars with sleazier women... and all that. This was the root of their mystique, the charisma that made their ultra-hoarse vocal style absorbing, rather than just a bit difficult - and that made it possible to love a style of music otherwise associated with retirees line dancing in a community hall.

However. To adopt an extreme faux-grizzled delivery by design, to train your voice to sound like someone twice your age as artifice – this kind of gets into tribute act territory. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, per se. Many, many people in the punk / alternative scene love Johnny Cash like a dear and much missed uncle. But I can't help feeling that this is all a little contrived. Am I saying that you can only do alt/country like this if you're old and gnarled? Don't know. Must confess though. It would look a little odd seeing this played live.

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