sat 18/05/2024

Album: The Dead South - Chains & Stakes | reviews, news & interviews

Album: The Dead South - Chains & Stakes

Album: The Dead South - Chains & Stakes

Catchy countrytown with twisty quirks

The Dead South’s ‘Chains & Stakes’: No-gloss and lack of schmexy production values

There are few ways of describing the music of The Dead South – progressive bluegrass is my favourite because it's so meaningless to so many. By which I mean it doesn't matter what the genre, it's just good music, and that's all you need to know.

I have such beautiful memories of "In Hell I'll Be Good Company" coming to our attention via Youtube during Lockdown (not sure why as it was released in 2014)  an incredibly catchy track that told the strange tale of an abusive husband killed by his wife. It became a family anthem for 2023 that we all (age range 4-44) perfected our bounce'n' heel tap to in accordance with the music video, and 50% of us took up the ukulele (because the banjo was too tricky).

“Blood on the Mind”, the opening track of the four strummers from Saskatchewan’s new album Chains & Stakes is very much cut from the same cloth of dark storytelling balanced with a gleeful smise, set to catchy jamgrass, telling of murderous insanity serenaded by the wind. It sets the tone for an album laden with twisted tales of black eyes, ghosts and spiked drinks to a jaunty, upbeat goldrush sound.

These are songs that don't need forensic detail to understand or appreciate them. The no-gloss and lack of schmexy production values lets the authenticity of the quartet (baritone Nate Hilts, Scott Pringle on mandolin, cellist Danny Kenyon and banjo player Colton Crawford) soar. And despite the authenticity of their Americana sounds, there is still somehow enough variety and momentum to keep you hooked. “20 Mile Jump” showcases some lighting fast banjo twangs and gut reverberating notes; “Completely, Sweetly” is an instant fave full of raw, obsessive riffs and those cavernous, head-back-n’yell high note harmonies; and “Father John” who was “a filthy man” that took pleasure in killing off sinners, demonstrates the quartet’s scintillating enjoyment of recounting the scandal and fallibility of all kinds of characters.

The rip-snorting hilarity of “The Cured Contessa”, which is about being okay with unmade beds and momma needing bacon to get out of bed every day, sits comfortably alongside the poignant optimism of "Tiny Wooden Box" which is a journey of a song in itself, rhythmically, lyrically and tonally, and the sitdown hum'n’strum of “A Place I Hardly Know” leaves out any saccharine from the sentimental bits – much like the rest of the album it's just dead down to earth. And dead good.

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