Rod Picott. Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil. Welding Rod Records

fullrescoverRod 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.

Website

Rod Picott. Out Past The Wires. Welding Rod Records

12IN_GATEFOLD_JKT_2PKTWhetting our appetite for his upcoming tour of the UK, Rod Picott releases his most ambitious album yet, the sprawling double disc (on CD and also on vinyl!) Out Past The Wires, 22 songs carved from his usual cast of blue collar workers, hard luck losers and folk living on the edge. Picott seems to have been extraordinarily prolific in the last year, the songs on the album whittled down from a long list of 78 to 32 serviceable ones, the ten spare songs expected to surface at some point. In addition he has released a collection of his poetry (God in His Slippers) and is preparing a book of short stories which will expand on some of the characters in the songs here.

Produced by Neilson Hubbard, the album features Picott backed by a studio band which includes Hubbard on percussion along with Will Kimbrough, Evan Hutchings, Lee Price and Kris Donegan with Picott recording his voice and guitar initially before the band set to backing them allowing the fuller band arrangements to rock out with some finesse, a finely nuanced balance of loose limbed spontaneity and excellent playing. There are moments here when they sound like The Faces with the slide guitars on A Better Man particularly reminiscent of Ronnie Wood slashing away while Better Than I Did opens with a Lennon like harmonica trill before the band head into Basement Tapes territory.

With Picott’s more sensitive songs, featuring just him and his guitar with some minimal backing, scattered throughout the two discs, mingling with the full on band songs, there’s no dichotomy between the discs here and, somewhat rare for a double album, no sense that Out Past The Wires would work better as a single disc. Instead it’s a double dose of good medicine with no slump in quality control in sight. He’s by turn joyous and morose, optimistic and pessimistic, angry and resigned. Blanket Of Stars is a beautifully delivered tender song sung by an outsider who’s mother was a teenage bride, his daddy a little bit drunk while Holding On ruminates in a similar manner with Picott in solo folksinger mode, the song grabbing one’s attention just as much as the rockier items here. Dead Reckoning is a perfectly realised love song as is The Shape Of You although here the love is in the past and the singer is drinking away his memories. Alcohol is the devil in Bottom Of The Well, a stark and astute portrait of a descent into addiction but this despair is somewhat redeemed by the following We All Live On, a rare note of optimism from Picott.

It’s a joy to hear Picott and the band gel on songs such as Take Home Pay (one of four co-writes with his buddy, Slaid Cleaves) and Coal which burns with a slowly seething sense of injustice along with a Southern rock swamp vibe while Hard Luck Baby is a rocker in the Mellencamp camp. But the 22 songs here run through a gamut of styles with the common denominator being Picott’s finger on the pulse of today’s America with Hard Luck Baby coming across like a condensed and updated version of The Grapes of Wrath. Overall the album is a triumph with Picott stepping up to the mark throughout and it certainly sets the barrier high for his upcoming shows, a barrier we are sure he will surmount as he’s a seasoned and exceptionally good performer. In addition he’s preparing the companion book with a first sneak peek available here as he fills in the background to Take Home Pay.

Rod tours the UK in March, all dates here

Website

Slaid Cleaves. Ghost On The Car Radio.

a3490201652_16Never a man to let you down Slaid Cleaves again comes up with the goods with Ghost On The Car Radio, a magnificent selection of songs that, aside from acting as a primer on how to turn out a nigh perfect album, reflects our current troubled times. It’s not a political album per se but Cleaves continues to be a champion of blue collar working songs on the sly country funk of Little Guys and the finely burnished Primer Gray, both songs hanging on the automobile as a metaphor for the state of the nation. The pulsating Take Home Pay with its growling guitars is a fine a capture of day to day scraping it together, the protagonist, unable to compete with younger labourers, pawns what he has and considers selling his blood, as Cleaves explains, “I’m bone dry but I can bleed.” Continuing their mutual admiration society Cleaves features four songs co-written with his buddy Rod Picott and his version of Drunken Barber’s Hand (a pacier rendition than Picott’s on Fortune), is given some elucidation via an interview Cleaves gave to Rolling Stone where he explains that the song was written in response to the topsy turvy politics that was gathering pace in the States.

Given all this the album overall is less direct than Cleaves’ last album (2013’s Still Fighting The War) and he lays down some songs that at times approach a Beatles’ like melodic air. If I Had A Heart is a careworn threnody, a life of dissolution and regret straining to accept the concept of a new innocence. So Good To Me meanwhile has McCartney like bridges over a very finely nuanced mix of acoustic clatter and swooning electric guitar while To Be Held drips with soulful tears as Cleaves almost dips into Solomon Burke territory with able assistance from Harmoni Kelley on harmony. There are also some invigorating slices of out and out jangled rock with Still be Mine a wonderful cascade of keyboards and guitars while the opening song, Already Gone, crashes in with a Tom Petty like flourish. Add in the Bakersfield jaunt of The Old Guard and the closing solo rendition of Junkyard, a slight return to the automobile motif equating a terminal illness to the heaps of rusting cars and you have one of the best albums of the year so far.

Website

Rod Picott. Fortune. Welding Records

rod20picott20fortune

Steadily Rod Picott has come up on the inner track to catch up with his better known peers in the school of hard knocks singer/songwriter stakes.  Welding Burns and Hang Your Hopes On A Crooked Nail were very fine albums, Picott weaving blue collar tales with a sense of grit and determination while able also to draw tender portraits of love gone wrong. Fortune builds on the strengths of those albums with Picott attempting to place more of himself into the songs as opposed to his snapshots of the current state of the ragged ass union. Fear not however, this is no exercise in navel gazing as several of the songs here maintain his ability to paint a vivid portrait as on the war widow’s farewell to her dead soldier on Jeremiah and the clattering tribute to the ‘ornery Uncle John.

Recorded quickly as Picott wanted to capture the immediacy of the performances in the studio the album seesaws between his gentler soloish performances and the gutsier band pieces. Here he’s ably assisted by the ubiquitous Will Kimborough on guitars (including oil can guitar!), Lex Price on bass and co-producer Neilson Hubbard (another name that is coming up increasingly) on drums. If there’s a theme to the album (and Picott says that the songs are about the sense of chance) then his view seems to be that we are playing with loaded dice as the players here all seem to be on the losing end. The suitor kneeling before his would be queen on the folky Maybe That’s What it Takes sees his dreams burned down while I was Not Worth Your Love is somewhat akin to a supplicant yelling I am not worthy before an idol not worthy of his praise. In a way Picott is furthering his broken love songs from the Crooked Nail album here, we mentioned back then that Roy Orbison seemed to inhabit the song All The Broken Parts and here Picott again plugs into that raw emotion on Secret Heart, his voice almost a crooner over his delicate guitar and Kimborough’s excellent and refrained shimmerings. Kimborough shines again on the wonderful closing song, Spare Change which, aside from the wonderful playing, captures Picott, the wordsmith, at his best.

There is some rollicking here and some humour. Uncle John “drinks his beer from a can cause bottles break/nine fingers from one mistake.” Elbow Grease has Picott mythologizing his life over a cracking country rock beat (with Kimborough again in fine form) as he recalls his failures and sings on the chorus “How’d a wreck like me even get this far/One more chance is all I need/I got a lucky charm and elbow grease.”  We get some soulful blues on the slinky Until I’m Satisfied and a tremendous rewrite of Hank Williams’ Ramblin’ Man on the apocalyptic and surreal Drunken Barber’s Hand that is somewhat fabulous.

Rod Picott is touring the UK in January and February with a Celtic Connections appearance on 25th January at The Royal Concert Hall. All dates here

website

 

Rod Picott. Hang Your Hopes On A Crooked Nail.

Rod Picott’s sixth album finds him in fine form as he continues to chronicle the ups and (mostly) downs of small town America in a masterful fashion. Coming in the wake of a relationship ending there’s a sense of loss in some of the songs and the feel of the album is for the most part downbeat although there are glimmers of a grim humour here and there.
Funded via a successful Kickstarter campaign Picott has elected to hire a producer for the first time (R. S. Field who’s worked with Hays Carll and Justin Townes Earle) and recorded with a new group of East Nashville musicians although he maintains his habit of co writing several songs with his old buddy Slaid Cleaves. There’s no fresh direction here but the album sounds assured and there is some strong playing from the assembled cast with guitarists Dave Coleman and Lex Price in sparkling form while Jennie Oken adds some fine harmony vocals. It’s less gritty than its predecessor, Welding Burns but more than makes up for that in the tenderness exhibited on several of the songs. While Picott opens with the pointed breakup song You’re Not Missing Anything and revisits love lost on Just A Memory you get the feeling that although he might have been hurting inside he just gritted his teeth and got on with his job and while the songs just don’t quite hit the high tide mark achieved on the previous album there is much to admire here. All The Broken Parts is another paean to lost love which is on a par with Roy Orbison’s melodramas and Might Be Broken Now appears to accept that what’s over is over and it’s time to move on. Delivered with a wonderfully dreamlike country waltz style as pedal steel keens and fiddle weeps this is a beautiful little number.
Picott still has some grit in him however as 65 Falcon clatters into view with a chunky percussive beat while Where No One Knows My Name revisits the hard times endured by the denizens of Welding Burns scraping a living and harassed by the cops. Mobile Home is the tragicomic tale of a couple proud of their tin can palace despite their neighbour who only plays Aerosmith intruding on their patch before eventually they part and the mobile home is sold on to another couple doomed to repeat the story. Finally Picott delivers Milkweed, a fine lilting country lament to an old worthy buried in “the one suit he ever owned,” a fine tribute to a way of life that is disappearing replaced by grime, poverty and a lack of dignity.
Picott is touring the UK in October and November and pitches up in Glasgow on the 10th November at the Woodend Bowling Club.

website

Slaid Cleaves. Still Fighting The War

Back in July 2011 we reviewed Rod Picott’s fine album Welding Burns so it was a nice surprise to see that Slaid Cleaves revisits two of the best songs on that album (which he co-wrote with Picott) on his latest effort. We tagged Picott as a “blue collar” songwriter back then and Cleaves backs this up on an album that at times celebrates the working man while documenting the hardship and struggle faced by many Americans these days. Cleaves Does leaven the agony with a couple of more upbeat songs that reflect his current base of Texas but overall his viewpoint is as critical of the American way of life as Picott’s
He opens with the powerful title song, a hard bitten tale of a traumatised Afghanistan vet feeling lost and abandoned that rings with a righteous anger as chiming guitars push the song on. Rust Belt Fields stands proud as an indictment of corporate greed while Welding Burns positively burns (indeed) with a fiery indignation. In The Rain is a plaintive cry of desperation with some fine guitar work while Without Her is a gem of a love song as the singer drowns in his loss, the horn arrangements here adding a lonesome quality. I Bet She Does puts the shoe on the other foot as Cleaves avoids the unwanted advances of an ex and details her failings with a gorgeous arrangement that is simple and uncluttered, a simple song that speaks volumes.
It’s not all doom and gloom however as Cleaves adds a few more upbeat numbers that come straight from the heart of Texas.Texas Love Song bounces into sight with a sprightly Dobro soloing throughout while God’s Own Yodeller bounces into Flatlanders’ territory with some excellent pedal steel from Lloyd Maines. Dedicated to the late Don Walser, a true Texas yodeller it’s a honeycombed delight that brims with vitality.
There are 13 songs here and all of them deserve your attention as Cleaves digs deep into the emotional hurt of common folk with the spirit of Woody Guthrie and delivers it with the alt country feel of the likes of Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Go For The Gold just about sums it up, a simple song with a simple message and blessed with immaculate guitar by Scrappy Jud Newcomb, a contender for song of the year.
Website

Rod Picott. Welding Burns.

Picott is for want of a better term, a “blue collar” singer songwriter. Working in the same field (more appropriately factory but that doesn’t really fit) as Springsteen in his more contemplative moments he celebrates working life. While he’s never set the heather on fire his albums have always been dependable slices of weary lived in tales delivered in a laconic style. Welding Burns will be no surprise to anyone who’s familiar with his work, some co-writes with Slaid Cleaves, harmonies by Amanda Shires and some fine picking and playing from some superb Nashville cats.
The 10 songs here are all fine examples of Picott’s work, vignettes, little slices of life. The title song tells of the inability of ordinary folk to move on from their inheritance. Delivered over a Southern blues groove with some fine fiddle from Shires it’s a powerful performance. Black T-shirt continues in this vein as a high school drop out sees the only way out to be robbery. The criminality and the southern vibe continues in 410.
Still I Want You Bad is an achingly heartfelt love song addressed to a partner whose bad habits don’t matter. Will Kimbrough adds some fine guitar here (as he does throughout). The album’s themes of loss, poverty and disillusion are gathered together in the opening song, Rust Belt Field. As the factories of the likes of Detroit closed the workers are left, bereft of self-respect and scrambling for any chance of a quick buck. Picott portrays this with a degree of empathy and a wonderful delivery. All in all a fine listen and a powerful indictment of the plight of some ordinary folk in the USA of today.
A regular visitor to these shores, Picott has a Glasgow date pencilled in for October.
website
Rust Belt Fields