If one band in the "alt-country" genre has its own distinct sound and presence, it's Sixteen Horsepower. David Eugene Edwards' vocals have a uniquely haunted and tortured quality all their own—as if at any moment he'll begin spewing a diatribe about Hellfire and Damnation (which is frequently the case). Woven Hand is the side project of David Eugene Edwards, and while Sixteen Horsepower are a more band-oriented affair, the Woven Hand project focuses on Edwards' unique insight and contributions to the band as a whole. Sixteen Horsepower have a strong Appalachian country influence, but their music still maintains a certain accessibility. Woven Hand, however, are much, much less accessible than Sixteen Horsepower; tending to sound almost anachronistically dated. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Blush Music, Woven Hand's second record, contains re-workings of many of the tracks on their self-titled debut album. This music, however, is considerably more dark and stripped-down than the tracks on the debut. "Animalitos (Ain't No Sunshine)" is a haunting, banjo-driven track, accompanied by peals of tremoloed feedback and samples of crows in the background of the music. It occurred to me, while listening to this track, that this is what Fields of the Nephilim, the seminal Eighties gothic rock band, strove to sound like: epic, haunting Western dirges evoking the images of the Old West exaggerated in Sergio Leone's eerie spaghetti westerns; where buzzards circled overhead, and rusted weathercocks squealed as they spun in the dust-strewn wind. This music is the real deal. Heavy on the atmosphere, and utilizing traditional instruments (banjo, bandoneon, harmonium, etc.), the album is perhaps a tad overwrought and pretentious, but it is effective in transporting the listener to the dark underbelly of early Twentieth Century rural America.
The record takes a rocking turn on "White Bird," the third track on Blush Music. I was reminded of Secret South, Sixteen Horsepower's third studio LP, and their most mainstream one. While still maintaining their distinctive sound, Sixteen Horsepower's sound was as much "Goth" as it was alt-country on that record. This Woven Hand track seems to hark back to Secret South: it's got clean electric guitar chords, complete with reverb and stereo chorus, combined with some straightforward electric guitar strumming, although never deviating into anything as mainstream-sounding as pure Goth. The track, along with its sister track, "Another White Bird," is the closest Blush Music comes to achieving anything close to a mainstream sound.
If there is the slightest concern about this record becoming merely a typical alt-country album, it's extinguished by the fourth track, "Snake Bite," which is an ambient, 7 Â½ minute instrumental featuring what sounds like stringed instruments being treated in a most indelicate manner. Cello and contrabass strings groan as if they have been bowed, stretched, plucked, and scraped to the point of torture. This track, in particular, is similar in sound to the wonderful and hard-to-find album Transmission of All the Good-Byes by Lilium, the side project of Sixteen Horsepower's bassist Pascal Humbert. At any rate, it is the most inaccessible and haunting piece on Blush Music.
"My Russia" is another lengthy and mostly instrumental piece; a primarily downbeat track featuring a haunting piano melody, brushed drums, and what is either an organ or electric piano providing some added atmospherics. The next track, "The Way," is a short instrumental showcasing Edwards' slide guitar playing. Track eight, "Your Russia (Without Hands)" is probably the heaviest track on the album; featuring a deep, leaden bass line, slide guitar, and fuzzy, creeping electric guitar, along with Edwards' tortured and dramatic vocals.
Blush Music concludes with the acoustic guitar and piano-driven "Story and Pictures," which is an appropriate title, considering the visual imagery of the Old West which is conjured by both the lyrics and ghostly, Ry Cooder-esque guitar feedback. As the album's slowest and most traditionally melodic piece, it seems the most suitable way to end the record.
While Woven Hand's second album is more instrumental-oriented than both Sixteen Horsepower and their own first LP, Blush Music is a brilliant record that, personally, seems reduced simply to the components of Sixteen Horsepower's music that I find the most appealing. I have always felt an affinity toward Sixteen Horsepower, because they seemed the most "authentic" and oddly dated of all the alt-country bands. Woven Hand's Blush Music will appeal to all lovers of Americana who can appreciate old-fashioned instrumentation with instruments of a bygone era.
1. Cripplegate (Standing on Glass)
2. Animalitos (Ain't No Sunshine)
3. White Bird
4. Snake Bite
5. My Russia (Standing on Hands)
6. The Way
7. Aeolian Harp (Under the World)
8. Your Russia (Without Hands)
9. Another White Bird
10. Story and Pictures