‘Screaming Mad’ Dee Calhoun is a rock’n’roll lifer, with a resume as long as your arm. Now the big bloke with the big pipes from metal/doom stalwarts Iron Man has delivered a new collection of acoustic tunes. It’s not exactly a new idea, of course; artists better known for their pummelling volume have been releasing acoustic versions of their work for decades. It’s not a new idea for Dee either; Godless is acoustic album number three for him.
But if you’re a novice like me please note: these tunes are not reworkings of electric songs. Even though some songs could easily make the transition back the other way, this is an album that deserves to be heard on its own merits.
The production is simple. Dee provides guitar, vocals, and a few other subtle instruments. His Iron Man and Spiral Grave band mate, Louis Strachan, plays bass. Calhoun’s son Robert Little ‘Houn brings percussion and backing vocals. So the constraints are tight, but as Orson Welles supposedly said: ‘The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.’
The album starts in fiery fashion, with a swaggering, galloping riff in Here Under Protest. Even without electrification, it’s metallic, and simultaneously Eastern and Western. Western, as in Lee Van Cleef chewing on a cigar and reloading his revolver. Eastern, as in there’s an understated backing instrument that might be a violin or a keyboard, but actually reminds me of an Iranian kamancheh.
The vocals start off rumbling and growling, before heading to a higher register. Dee’s an outspoken devotee of Dio and Halford. They never did much for me personally, but when Dee heads up to his higher harsh sound, my mind immediately goes to Layne Staley. That’s the comparison I continue to make as the album goes on.
To My Boy is purest gossamer. The brief father-son harmonies are magic, and every time I listen to this tune, I just melt…
Sometimes the sound is more spacious, more delicate, as in the evocative waltzing guitar and clear vocals of The Moon Says Goodbye or the restrained protest of No Justice. To My Boy is purest gossamer. The brief father-son harmonies are magic, and every time I listen to this tune, I just melt.
Then other times, the attack is harder and faster, as in Hornswoggled. The guitar spends time as nearly pure percussion, and the growling bass picks up the slack. At other times, the mood is slow, thunderous, and gloomy. Spite Fuck and Ebenezer are both built on monstrous lumbering grooves. The groove in Godless is swampy and bluesy, and the howling vocals are truly haunting.
Across the album, Louis Strachan’s bass tends to be an aggressive rumble, rather than adding a lot of melody. Likewise, Little ‘Houn’s percussion, with some judicious exceptions, is more about punctuation than propulsion. Neither of those statements is a criticism; this album’s a vehicle for the vocals and guitar, and those vocals howl, growl, and wail, while the guitar snarls and weeps.
As a single entity, it could be a soundtrack to a particularly dark Western movie. It’s a substantial slab of gothic country, an expertly constructed piece of doom Americana, and a fine album.
Scribed by: Rob Bryant