Writing for a predominantly heavy music website is extremely rewarding in terms of the riches it delivers discovering some amazing new bands and having the opportunity to expose them to a waiting world. Conversely, as a writer, it does become increasingly difficult to find new and creative ways to describe “fuzzy guitars” and “thunderous drums”. Thus, when this new album from Southwest Virginian bluegrass folk band The Black Twig Pickers came up for grabs it presented a welcome challenge to both my listening and my writing.
For all you heavy heads weaned on big amps and distortion, throw everything you know out of the window. These guys don’t use amps and, if it weren’t for the fact that they needed to record these songs, they wouldn’t need electricity at all. This is as pared back and rootsy as it gets. Based around a core sound that incorporates acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle, harmonica and such unconventional percussion items as washboard, fiddlesticks and hambones as well as vocals, this is the soundtrack to a backwoods barn dance with moonshine a plenty. I can imagine these guys playing well into the night around a camp fire immersed in their own hypnotic rhythms as revellers get lost in dancing and the good times…simpler times.
The Pickers draw their songs from the traditions of their surroundings breathing life in to older songs that have been passed down from musician to musician through the ages, not just from Southwest Virginia but also Kentucky and the surrounding areas. The result is as authentic a depiction of rural southern life through music as you’re likely to find. Melodies are largely driven by the fiddle while acoustic guitars and banjo add flesh to the bones. Most of the songs here are instrumental, based around simple yet heart warming melodies with the occasional whoop, yelp and holler thrown in for good measure as the musicians become drawn into their playing and become subject to outbursts of pure joy. This is a sound that predates the blues and laid the foundations for country and western and for any astute student of musical history is worth a listen if only to hear the roots of what we know today as rock and roll.
Lovely is not a term is get to use too often in reviews but this is an album that is truly lovely to listen to. The more introspective, mellower tunes ring with a melancholic, wistful beauty while the more upbeat, hoedown type songs bring a genuine smile to the face and a desire to grab a partner and dozy do on down. Cultural clichés aside this album has a place in every record collection regardless of tastes or preconceived ideas about what type of music lover you are…whether you are a full tilt Neurosis fan through to blues scholars. Put it on, shut your eyes and imagine the blue skies over the Blue Ridge Mountains and escape for a few moments.
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall