It’s been a long and successful road for Jason Simon, and as the longstanding leader of hazy retro rockers Dead Meadow, his fuzzier, heavier riffing hand has co-penned a collection of trailblazing classic records – Shivering King And Others had the near perfect blend of Hendrixian styled blues and masterfully somber aesthetics and the richly textured platter of ‘shoegaze du jour’ made 2005’s Feathers a highlight of his career. But behind the wah pedals and milky distortion lies a traditional folk sensibility, one that made songs like Jusiamere Farm and Golden Cloud just as relevant to Black Sabbath worshippers as to disciples of Bob Dylan and other godfathers of Americana. So the darkened country blues of Old Testament’s 10 track debut shouldn’t be a shocker – Simon’s fretboard stamp and trademark croon are once again front and center stage, but his backing troop – Nate Ryan (guitars, ex-Black Angels, Shine Brothers), Oak Munson and Ryan Rapsys on harp and drums respectively, with Jessica Senteno (harmonium) – give this album a bit more quirky character; a unique identity that avoids the pitfalls of outright mimicry (a la Brian Jonestown Massacre’s stellar but shamefully Dylan-esque Thank God For Mental Illness) and twists influences just enough to come out squeaky clean, deftly weird, and wholly original.
Skin And Bones is true to the name – stripped down, shuffling grooves, a jangly blues hook and some tasteful slide guitar; the ingredients are right, the accents are spot on – it takes you to an era where the country’s open road is your only friend; we’ve all been on these kinds of rides in one way or another, but Old Testament lives it (or at least they’re damn convincing at crafting the lifestyle and atmosphere). But ironically, the record’s more memorable cuts like the 9+ minute psych drone album anchor Now As In Ancient Times, the skulking Trip Light and the eerie organ creeping Key To The Kingdom sound like de-amped Dead Meadow – to their credit, enough splashes of freak-folk make the trip interesting and engaging enough for repeat spins. Unfortunately, a proportion of the record slips by relatively unnoticed, relying more on sustained folk-Americana atmosphere than on the strength of truly memorable songs (Movin’ On and Dallas fall into that category). But the power of tracks like Let Me In easily make up for the slight missteps – here, the group has a handle on bittersweet balladry and the flipside to that coin in the haunting, front-porch knee slapping Josephine – two hard hitting tracks that remind you of the album’s relevance, vitality, and essential soul behind the humid haze and sleepy blues.
For now, the next chapter in Old Testament’s ‘future-past’ is unwritten, but they’ve put enough flags in the dirt to call southern America home. And while not the definitive statement in country/folk rock, their psyched out take on the culture and sound is novel and inspired. And for that, we should all praise the good Lord and be thankful.
Scribed by: Jeremy Moore