There is a tendency to situate Sixteen Horsepower under the rubric “alt-country.” In keeping with the genre’s somewhat arbitrary requirements, they do create a harmonic union between punk attitude and country sensibilities. However, one doesn’t have to carefully listen to each nuance to discern that Sixteen Horsepower is unlike any of their compatriots in the enchanted land of No Depression. Invoking the Southern Gothic aesthetic, they are an Appalachian-esque version of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. As the instrumentation on their newest album Folklore fluctuates between lush and sparse, it is almost always performed in a minor key. Using traditional folk and country instruments to create unconventional soundscapes, Folklore offers an intense and pensive tone. Unlike previous Sixteen Horsepower releases, more than half of the ten songs are credited to a creative genius other than singer David Eugene Edwards — with one from Hank Williams and another from the repertoire of The Carter Family, the remaining four re-presentations are noted as tradition. By no means does this take from the brooding performative style for which the band, especially Edwards, is known. In fact it is Edwards’s ability to convincingly assume the persona specific to each song that demonstrates his interpretative facility. At one moment he is the storyteller that the album’s title hints at (“Outlaw Song”), a few moments later he is fiery Christian preacher (“Sinnerman”). His morose interpretation of Williams’s “Alone And Forsake” is hauntingly beautiful while an upbeat rendition of The Carter Family’s “Single Girl” belies the desperation of the song’s lyrics. The band’s take on “La Robe a Parasol,” a French waltz recast as an Appalachian jig, is absolutely clever, offering one of the album’s few effulgent moments. Yet, despite this ephemeral moment of hope, the listener remains bothered by the bleak imagery of the previous folk tales long after the album ends.
Jetset Records: http://www.jetsetrecords.com