Friday, August 07, 2009

Goth Country

A few months ago, at the Festival of Faith and Music at Calvin College, guitar slinger and ace songwriter Dave Perkins presented a paper on Goth Country, that strange and macabre mixture of Old Testament fire and brimstone, bad whiskey, loose women, and the intersection of backwoods theology and murder ballads. It's a potent and disturbing musical brew that has fueled everyone from Flannery O'Connor's Hazel Motes to The Louvin Brothers to Johnny Cash to Nick Cave to 16 Horsepower. And since then I've been burrowing in to this moving and disturbing genre. I'd love to know if anyone else is a fan.

The musical touchstones are as old as the traditional Appalachian ballads and the Delta Blues, but some of the more contemporary practitioners are Nick Cave, 16 Horsepower, Johnny Dowd, Woven Hand, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, Jay Munly, The Builders and the Butchers, Jim White, and The Blackeyed Susans. Anybody else follow these folks?

13 comments:

cnb said...

I like Nick Cave and 16 Horsepower, but I haven't heard of, much less heard, any of the others you name. I'm taking notes.

Gar said...

I'm with you....

modoro said...

When I first saw "Goth Country" I was afraid you were referring to acts like Unknown Hinson (http://www.unknownhinson.com/)- though, I understand he puts on a good show. I like and listen to several of the bands you mentioned. Good stuff.

Mary said...

Thanx for this post--I love most things related to the so called "Southern Gothic" (in fact, I am teaching a class this January called "Southern Storytellers" that will incorporate a lot of what you mention). I am not familiar with some of these musicians, so I am eager to do some googling. I only just discovered Jim White from watching the documentary _Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus_. Have you seen it? It also features 16 Horsepower and the Handsome Family (who are certainly within this 'genre'). I also feel as if Will Oldham's various projects are very informed with this particular sort of Southern-ness--especially some of the early Palace stuff that sounds as if it could have jumped off of the page of a Faulkner novel.

Reformed Activist said...

I've enjoyed Jim White and Nick Cave tried Woven Hand but it never quite clicked with me.

Hayseed said...

Let's see... I liked 16 Horsepower but never really followed-up with Woven Hand. I met those folks in Handsome Family in Austin several years back and I like what they do. I've done a couple of festivals with Johnny Dowd and found him to be a very interesting and complex individual. Likeable, though. Met Jim White when he was out with Lucinda a few years ago. Didn't really enjoy his music. I did a show with the "Slim Cessna" bunch around 1999 in West Virginia and did not find their music very interesting. I also didn't think it would fit into the category so it may have shifted after that.

Andy Whitman said...

Mary, yep, The Handsome Family and Will Oldham/Palace Brothers/Palace Music/Bonnie Prince Billy certainly fit within these parameters.

I'd love to audit your class. Literature and music, right? That would be great fun.

Hayseed, the Woven Hand material is still David Eugene Edwards, which means it's still very dark, but it's less country and more indie rock than the 16 Horsepower albums. The Gothic is still there, though.

Some recent Slim Cessna titles: "Lethal Injection," "Barrel of My Gun," and "Jesus Is My Body." They're definitely working Flannery O'Connor territory.

Andy Whitman said...

Some more highlights. I don't know how I could have forgotten these:

Willard Grant Conspiracy, particularly "Regard the End," which has ghost tales, death by drowning, and a musical passage from the Book of Job, and

Those Poor Bastards -- Five albums -- "Hellfire Hymns," "Songs of Desperation," "Satan is Watching," "The Plague," and "Country Bullshit." I think that qualifies.

Mary said...

Thanks for all the great suggestions, Andy. It sure would be fun to have you audit the class! We will focus on music, art, literature, and film. Start each day off (3 hour classes!) with a bit of a Southern history/culture lesson taught through listening to music. Actually, I wish you could come and speak to my class. If you just happen to come to GR in January, please come. Last semester, Marty Garner taught part of my literature class one day when we listened to The Hold Steady directly after reading Flannery O'Connor--it was really fun.
Woven Hand came and played at Calvin last year--pretty creepy, but strangely beautiful and satisfying.

Andy Whitman said...

Another worthy addition to the list: Zebulon Whatley and the Sons of Perdition -- "The Kingdom is on Fire"

Some sample song titles: "An End to All Flesh," "Fall To Your Knees," "All He Wants (Is My Blood)" and the deceptively placid "The Party," the charming tale of a psychotic axe murderer.

Fred said...

The Castanets albums Cathedral and First Light's Freeze fit into thie category for me.

Andy Whitman said...

Good call on The Castanets, Fred. The new album "Texas Rose, the Thaw, and the Beasts," out in another month or so, slots nicely into the Gothic Country genre as well.

Anonymous said...

Adding "Murder by Death", "Antic Clay" and "Reverend Glasseye" to the list. Great music