Sixteen Horsepower

Sixteen Horsepower

Low Estate

Ditch Digger

A&M

Like leader David Edwards, I have lived in Colorado and am very familiar with heavy-duty Christianity (although not necessarily his brand name of it). I have even seen the band open up for Morphine in Boulder a few years ago.

Despite all this I am still at a loss to put what I hear into words. That it’s got a little punk rock and a lot of country in it is clear. Um, it’s generally pretty heavy stuff emotionally, bordering on a dirge at times. I found that only “Golden Rope” had an optimistic feeling and only on the chorus. The performance intensity is unbelievable, almost unbearable, like an old country blues record or anything else that has too much wilderness (or madness) in it to belong in the second half of the twentieth century. (I found this impression to be reinforced by the insert photos of the band).

Technically, the musicianship is flawless without being perfectionist, and the sound is absolutely enormous despite the sparse arrangements. Edward’s vocals are amazing, he can drawl in a hoarse voice, yodel, sing smooth country harmony, and scream like a mad ghoul, but most of the time he emits a twangy pulpit yell. His lyrics are as wrenching and familiar as they are cryptic.

Along with LP Low Estate, I also received an EP entitled Ditch Digger containing the LP cut of the same name as well as a number of live tracks and an eerie cover of “Bad Moon Rising.” If my memory and the EP serve me well, they sound pretty amazing live.

Aha, I have it. They give me a feeling similar to that brought about by reading Poe’s fiction. Horror, power, clarity, and absolute mastery, set amongst the drudgery and constrictions of nineteenth century life. I hope they keep it up.

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