Much as Blabber’n’Smoke digs all sorts of Americana related music there’s a special corner reserved for those artists who , mindless of fashions or tends, have a connection to the mother lode, the feel , the spirit and the essence of what has been called old weird Americana. Essentially cult artists they may be lone pickers or surround themselves with all sorts of stringed and banged instruments but their one common factor is generally their invisibility, at least to the general public. The mavericks, the misfits, hiding under a stone, it’s a joy to discover yet another one. I’m sure that this hidden status is not their preferred choice (at least for some, others will scurry away from the spotlight) and a few more dollars in their pockets wouldn’t go amiss so it’s almost a public service announcement to try and wise up folk to the likes of Michael Hurley, Peter Stampfel, Baby Gramps and others we’ve mentioned on Blabber’n’Smoke.
Tom House strikes us as mining the same vein as the above trio. Despite being championed by the likes of Greil Marcus he has flown under our radar until Winding Down The Road opened our eyes and ears. A sixty something Nashville musician House’s first recordings were on a Bloodshot Records compilation called “Nashville, The other Side of the Alley Insurgent Country Vol. 3” (which actually resides on the Blabber’n’Smoke shelves) released back in 1996 before releasing seven albums of what Marcus has called “folk music made for ordinary people by devils, a cruel recasting of country music as an extraordinary collection of warnings and threats.” However, as a creative force he has been going at it since the seventies, composing songs and writing poetry while holding down a day job and apparently fighting his battles with the bottle.
Somehow, House has fallen in with the good folk at Mud Records, in particular Brock Zeman who produces and plays all over the album along with a very simpatico band providing an authentic sounding dirt trodden and at times spooky backdrop for House’s song poems which he delivers in a gnarled and wizened voice. The band can be spare and old timey minstrel sounding or deliver a stone solid groove but ultimately Zeman has set up a magnificent canvas for House to paint his words on. And what words. His battle with the booze and his poetic past might lead to comparisons with the likes of Bukowksi and strangely enough some of this album recalls Tom Russell’s album Hotwalker which paid tribute in part to the old postman. Another lost soul recalled is Vic Chesnutt particularly in the gloriously unhinged title song which closes the album, a wracked solo delivery eventually metamorphoses into a brief guitar laden epiphany. It’s not all doom and gloom as House occasionally comes across like Roger Miller’s sly contributions to the Disney cartoon of Robin Hood. However even when he deceptively commences a song with Miller’s laid back country scat as on the jaunty Pappy Closed the Book the content is bloody as a psychopathic cop shrugs off the death of his squeeze. Throughout the album House casts a spotlight on a dark and dank underbelly, forensically and poetically examining the state of the nation. The spoken word Paradox With Suitcase is elliptic and sounds fantastic. Willie MacBroom crackles like a pre-war song as House tells the tale of a drifter who casually kills but for the most part House eschews stories and paints impressionistic pictures of folk lost, seeking a meaning to life, salvation. Jericho touches on the religious wars being waged currently and could be seen as a plea from the damaged men and women with post traumatic stress disorder retuning from foreign field, nevertheless it’s a tour de force, like an ancient blues holler it shivers with dread and gloom as Zeman recreates the past perfectly. All of the songs here are worth hearing and hearing again and House stakes his claim to be considered a worthy portal to the essence of American folklore.