FAME Review: Tom House - Winding Down the Road
Tom House - Winding Down the Road

Winding Down the Road

Tom House

Mud Records #4

Available from CD Baby.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

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:


Late at night, whiskey sings like angels
Sings like shadows, seems like something
Might need forgiving, maybe never needed
Nothing like it, come the light of day

I'm stumbling down my car, get in it, don't get far
In that hot Virginia morning, I'm still drunk, it's how I am
I pull off a mountain mile or so, some Church parking lot, and smile
Cause maybe I already know, and I've known it for awhile
Just how this song's going to end; before long, I'll be gone

And the words, they find their own tongue
I make them up, I go along, don't matter much to me I swear
I get it right, I get it wrong, the last hours I can hang in there, the last verse of the song

Hear them angel voices swelling, sounds so good, sounds so strong
That last moment, like a testament, somehow feel like I belong

And I don't need Nashville now to tell me what it ain't never really known
Ain't no gospel entertainment bred so deep down in the bone
Some fear or dark despair austere, this mess my life, I can't repair
But I can carry on, and if there's one more song in my heart, boys
I'm ready, let it start, I'll know my place, I'll know my part

And when that chorus come around again, you can be sure I'll be joining in

…and don't be too surprised if Tom Waits soon adopts this into his repertoire. It's right up his alley.

Track List:

  • Whiskey Sings like Angels
  • Someone's Digging in the Underground
  • Pappy Closed the Book
  • Postal Cards
  • Paradox with Suitcase
  • Jesse
  • Willie McBroom
  • Love Song
  • Gradual Awawkening
  • Jericho
  • Winding Down the Road
All songs written by Tom House.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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