I'd just got done reviewing Lac La Belle's extremely solid Bring on the Light (here), a disc that drags the scions of old Appalachia back out for our renewed delectation when, unbelievably, this gem arrived in the mail and knocked me back on my pins…again. I'd never even heard of Tom House before the moment I put the disc on, but Winding Down the Road is already on my Top 20 of 2012 List, and for a multiplicity of reasons. However, before I set down another word, you need to see this video, so that the mood's set. I'm able to tackle most any genre of sonic art, but Winding leaves me a bit daunted and flabbergasted even just in its lead cut, Whiskey Sings like Angels:
Note not only House's straight-from-the-hoots-n-hollers (um, to us city slickers, that'd be 'hoots and hollows') voice but also the description-defying music behind him. How on Earth does one describe that in words? As a cross between Harold Budd and Ry Cooder? As the ringing of ghostly bells played by wised-up but sorrowful ghosts in laconic backwaters? As the tuned and reflective lament of a chugged fifth laying abandoned in the dew-heavy evening fog?
Not only is Whiskey one of the all-time great song titles, but the entirety of Winding is very much in league with the track—even when jigging about in the whimsical Pappy Closed the Book, which concerns itself with a hell of a lot more than the light musical airs suggest—occupying a fascinating zone between arcane bygone days and magical realism. The plaintive Postal Cards, however, soon burrows right back into the depths of the soul, sending a chill up the spine while a smile steals across face, the songs particulars all too familiar to any human being who's dared step beyond the Ozzie & Harriet life. Every track here is a study in not just the musician and street philosopher's art, but a step well beyond all the conventions it tackles…while remaining in haunting fidelity with everything.
I'll end this review by doing something I've never done in my 25+ years of critiquing: citing the entirety of the words of a song, what you didn't catch the full measure of due to House's rendingly heartfelt hazed recitation in Whiskey. Among other pursuits, I'm a Language Arts tutor, and it's damned hard to locate worthy material for high school minds to apply their growing critical analysis skills to. Well, this one goes in the catalogue, I could teach for a week off it, and the stanzas are going to illustrate to young minds just what ambivalence, ambiguity, irony, and the human condition mean in a hell of a lot better fashion than the sterile crap they print in dumbed-down textbooks:
WHISKEY SINGS LIKE ANGELS
Late at night, whiskey sings like angels
I'm stumbling down my car, get in it, don't get far
And the words, they find their own tongue
And I don't need Nashville now to tell me what it ain't never really known
…and don't be too surprised if Tom Waits soon adopts this into his repertoire. It's right up his alley.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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