Chris D And The Divine Horsemen
Time Stands Still
It’s his voice that grabs you through the speakers, the voice that lags drunkenly behind the buoyant “Brown-Eyed Girl”-esque musical arrangement of “When The Rain Comes Down,” sunburnt with Mexicali flourishes — but where was I? Oh yeah, the voice…. It’s another one of those voices that I love so much, the type of voice that’s gonna set a line in the sand between those who get it and those who have no conception of beauty — up there with Andrew Eldritch and Nick Cave in terms of none-more-black baritone, but from there add a fearlessness of expression, a peerless sense of drama that verges on the operatic, some of that high lonesome sound that Gram Parsons and Hank Williams went on and on about, and just a pinch of good ol’ Tom Waits atonal playfulness. The sound of a sob caught in the throat, the panic of being left by your true love. Fuck, I love Chris D.
“Lilly White Hands” is augmented by seasick strings, conjuring the infinite drone of the Velvets, but topped off with honey-soft backing “ooooooohs” and Chris D. thrashing away in a suicidal haze, growling and moaning about “a picture of a devil in his prayer book.” The hard and the soft elements of the sound don’t go down easy, padre, it’ll take a couple listens to get it right. The girl/boy interplay of “Past All Dishonor” is fucking classic he said/she said lover pains and sadness — up there with George Jones and Tammy Wynette, with Julie Christensen harmonizing circles around a despondent Chris D. The twin vocals wander, finish one another’s sentences, fight, fuck, laugh, cry and then join together in a gorgeously mismatched duo. Christensen’s clear Emmylou-cry looms large over the rest of the album.
“Frankie Silver” is an old-fashioned brittle murder ballad about Frankie and Johnny — two lovers coming to a violent, unfaithful end; Christensen gives a convincing voice to Frankie’s spurned anger, and Chris’s ebon warble never ceases to amaze with its sheer force of individuality. “Heat From The Sun” sees the Horsemen channeling their inner lizard king with a sundazed hallucinatory travelogue interspersed with a cappella incantations against odd sound patchworks that enhance the quasi-mystical peyote mood. “Sanctuary” is a roadhouse rough cowpunk rocker — with spitting cobra vocals and barreling piano. The female backing vocalist must be heard to be believed, that’s rough stuff.
“Little Sister” is a lump-in-throat inducing lament, bone-deep blues. Over a sawing cello drone and doleful country strumming, Chris D. weeps over his sister prostituting “herself for a bottle of whiskey.” When he just howls, “come my darling/you’re all the family I ever, ever had,” I get chills, and I just know that any chance for redemption is far, far gone. “Hell’s Belle” swings and frugs up a storm at every seductive shake of the tambourine used to punctuate the honky-tonking guitars. It’s all Fleetwood Mac psychodrama fuelled on cheap tequila, I hate you-I can’t live without you. “Tears Fall Away” is a shotgun wedding ‘twixt “Venus In Furs” and a waltz; make it slower, more beautiful and then when theat-waltzing chorus kicks in… bring out the tuxedos and crinoline dresses.
“My Sin” resides in the no man’s land that’s halfway between Emmylou Harris and the Sisters of Mercy. Great fucking LA rootspunk that builds to a dramatic conclusion of awestruck screams, “I didn’t know I could kill a man with my bare hands.” “Devil’s River” is pure Crazy Horse, comedown heaviness — jesus, every chord weighs a ton and crashes down and makes you choke with the dust, and the tempo is bluesy and drunken. “Mother’s Worry” is a full on rocker, bursting with proto-punk urgency and a vocal that sneers and swaggers like David Johansen. “Tenderest Kiss” ends the album on an tender note, two lovers professing their love for one another, reminiscing, soaking in the moment, “I didn’t think a girl like you could exist….I didn’t think a boy like you could exist.” Like those great country duets of the past, but for real, finally.
Please note that Chris D’s cover posture and general appearance is not unlike that of Brian Eno’s relaxed demeanor on the back of the Another Green World album, and from there draw your own conclusions on the curative properties of abandoning preconceptions (and his punk rock past) and creating timeless art. One of the top reissues of the year.