Any review for Those Poor Bastards should probably start off with a disclaimer that gothic country is not for everyone. Nor do I claim to be an expert of the music; I’ve always felt like I’m on the outside looking in. Having said that, I have really become intrigued and entertained with what Those Poor Bastards do, and think of Lonesome Wyatt as virtually peerless in procuring sounds to set the exact mood he envisions for songs. This in itself can be appreciated, even if someone doesn’t like the songs themselves, or the themes they convey.
I like Those Poor Bastard’s songs, not necessarily their albums, if that makes sense. I have never found myself listening to an album cover to cover. Instead I know all the songs that I dig from their respective albums, and call on them collectively when I’m in a TPB mood. That might be why it took me so long to warm up to this album, because those songs that speak to me are deep in the album, and why this review is coming to you 4 months after Gospel Haunted’s release.
It may have taken me a while, but now I might go as far as to say it is their best effort yet, barring Lonesome Wyatt’s work with Rachel Brooke on A Bitter Harvest, which might sit as the standard bearer for gothic country for quite a while. That might be another reason my appreciation was paused; initially it felt like a step back. Now I understand they are two completely different projects that are a little unfair to compare.
With Gospel Haunted, Lonesome Wyatt and The Minister work less with symbolism, and come right out and say what they mean: the poor are righteous, the rich are fools, and megachurches should be burned. With the song “Chemical Church,” in a sordid, comically mocking style, they call out the clean and comfortable lifestyle as a prison for the soul while the contrast in the screaming and smooth vibrato vocal parts play off each other brilliantly. “Wealth Is Death” carries a similar disparaging message for people chasing the golden goose, but in a haunting, hymnal way.
The genius of TPB’s is taking the core of religious dogma, and using it to preach, and sometimes mock the mainstream religious for their contemporary, hypocritical behaviors. Some may take their music as sacrilegious, but in so many ways it is truly righteous while at the same time not really taking sides as explained in the song “At The Crossroads.” They have thought out their message, and never let envy enter the battle. Instead they embrace and praise the poor lifestyle as a choice, and maybe even a privilege, however miserable it may be. And then they embrace misery in the same way.
“Open Wounds” was another standout, highlighting their adeptness at crafting wildly unique songs from sometimes simple structures and primitive, outmoded sounds. Barely-veiled drum machine click tracks, 80’s-era Casiotones, and nondescript musicianship all seem to work in their favor once all the ingredients are combined together. Once this album’s second half won me over, I revisited songs like “Judgment Is Coming” and “Serpents,” which revealed themselves as great compositions as well, even though it might be some of the most disjointed and inaccessible music TPB’s have ever put out, and that is saying a lot.
The song “Glory Amen” has been a TPB’s staple for a while, but this is their first studio recording. .357 String Band also recorded it on Fire & Hail, and so I found it a little hard to appreciate, though the song itself works fine. What I can’t get behind at all is the very last song, “I’ll At Ease.” My guess is you either love this song or hate it, and I fall into the latter because unlike so many TPB’s songs that take not uncommon song structures and expand on them to make their own creations, this one the bones are too exposed, and the sheer length works against it.
Again, this is not for everyone, but as we enter the second half of the haunted month and the very real possibility of a double dip recession, I can hardly think of a more appropriate soundtrack for late October 2010 than the haunted gospel of Those Poor Bastards.
Two guns up.