Rod Picott has carved himself a career, a stellar series of albums and consistent touring finally allowing him to give up his day job as a sheetrock hanger. Tagged as a “blue collar” storyteller he has recently branched out into the world of literature publishing his poetry and a book of short stories but he was almost derailed last year following a major health scare. He survived, thankfully, but that brush with mortality gave him pause for thought leading to this, his most stripped back and personal album so far. Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil is not solely about his illness but, as he says in his liner notes, “Confronting mortality, I asked myself a few questions. Who am I? Who have I been?” Some of the songs try to answer these questions, others delve into his past and a few are simply just excellent examples of his song writing as Picott bares his soul on what is a magnificent record.
The album opens and closes with a short rumble of thunder, a portent of doom perhaps, but otherwise it’s unadorned, just Picott, at home with a guitar and a harmonica laying down his truth. The opening song, Ghost, sets the scene as he posits himself as an invisible entity whom no one can hear, trapped in an existential quandary. A 38 Special & A Hermes Purse, a song Picott says was directly related to his heart problem, is a dark meditation on the will to live and the demons who can persuade one to end it all. A Guilty Man is a confessional, past behaviour alienating those around him leading to a lonesome life, although there is a chance of absolution.
These dark and intimate songs are surrounded by some spectacular notes on family memories which are unveiled with the authority of a writer such as Steinbeck as Picott recalls his father bailing out a flooded basement or putting on his Sunday best to go to church. On Mama’s Boy he sets out his family’s boxing heritage, makeshift rings for the kids to scrap in and then watching the likes of Clay and Liston on the family TV, the song becoming a meditation on masculinity as Picott sings, “Gonna turn that boy into a man.” Mark is based on a memory of a high school friend who killed himself which Picott sees as a turning point from childhood to the cold reality of grown up life, his sixties benchmarks, Kennedy, The Beatles turning to dust. The song recalls Hunter S Thompson’s famous line on the death of sixties optimism, “You can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look west, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
On a wider plane, Picott has a riposte to the “glamorisation” of working class life on A Beautiful Light (co-written with Ben de la Cour), paints a gritty portrait of the dingy life of a bar band on Spartan Hotel and tries to summon up an angel for his demons on Folds Of Your Dress. Too Much Rain meanwhile is a murder ballad which is informed by his recent immersion in gritty southern fiction.
Packed with excellent songs and expertly mixed from Picott’s raw tapes by Neilson Hubbard, Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil is likely to be compared to the likes of Springsteen’s Nebraska due to its stripped down nature. It’s more than that however. It’s the sound of a master craftsman who has supped with his devil and lived to tell the tale.