Blabber’n’Smoke described Michael Rank’s previous album, Kin as a set of wonderfully ramshackle country leaning rock songs…..straight from the Stones’ country songbook. A double album, it had a tremendous swagger with switch-blade guitar and fiery fiddles blazing away. With In The Weeds Rank, a stick thin rock’n’roll ragamuffin staring defiantly from the album sleeve, delivers another blindingly good set of songs that again have a wasted elegance, a cosmic American sloppiness that strips away any studio polish and replaces it with genuine feeling. It’s not lo-fi or primitive with the production sounding crystal clear but the emotion bleeds from the speakers in spades as Rank and his band Stag lurch wonderfully from song to song.
A single disc, In The Weeds is obviously not as expansive as its predecessor and there is less of the fire and fury present. These ten songs are for the most part countrified laments with Rank accompanied on many of them by the vocal harmonies of Emily Frantz. The blistering guitar solos are for the most part abandoned and the overall feel is of a back porch session of musicians schooled in the ways of The Band and Nikki Sudden and The Jacobites. There remains however one guitar fuelled epic, The River Cross, a passionate and churning song that inherits Neil Young’s Stray Gators’ mix of banjo, pedal steel, slow burning guitar and clattering drums. Epic indeed.
The ragged acoustic numbers that predominate here might lack the gravitas of The River Cross but Rank’s (and Frantz’s) vocals allied to his ability to write songs rooted in the idiom as the band seesaw away more than make up for that. ‘Round My Head opens the album in fine style with sawing fiddle, rippling mandolin, chunky guitar and sweet pedal steel interlaced around the vocals and eventually taking over in a great melange by the end. This wonderful instrumental recipe underpins all of the songs here with a depth and complexity that belies the apparent ramshackleness of the opening song. Rifle Days ripples with regret while Topo crackles with anxiety and foreboding. Some of the songs however have a more bare boned approach with the band tiptoeing around while the listener half expects all hell to break loose. This Town is the best example as Rank is accompanied by a solitary banjo until the massed guitars occasionally hum into life and then fade away while The Surrender strips the instrumentation back and then allows a menacing guitar rumble to intrude. Lyrically the album is pretty dark and this is concentrated in the quieter musical moments. Field Song is a desolate ballad with stark fiddle and mandolin circling a grim tale of a suitor burying his would be lover and the opening words on All The Rope have all the ingredients for a home-made gallows.
A tremendous follow up to Kin, In The Weeds is a magnificent collection and deserves to be heard. Rank writes with the best of them and the sonic slurry he conjures up is nothing less than mesmerising.