Furnace, the sophomore solo album from newgrass outfit Trampled By Turtles frontman Dave Simonett (Dead Man Winter) comes off the back of a messy and painful divorce, so understandably it’s not overflowing with upbeat positivity. What it does have, however, is a collection of deeply personal and open-nerved songs couched in memorable, infectious melodies, delivered with an aching tenor and echoes of 60s country-rock.
Working with a four-piece band made up of friends from the Minneapolis scene (Turtles bassist Tim Sauxhaug among them), it was recorded live to tape, capturing the rawness of the experience and the feelings without any filters. Veined with self-loathing, anguish, guilt and bitterness at the implosion of marriage and family, it opens with This House Is On Fire, a slow march acoustic sway haunted by Band-like organ as he wonders where all the good times went. The song builds to a twangsome middle-eight as he sings about “ghosts in the living room” of a house no longer a home.
The tempo, if not the mood, picks up for Destroyer with its tumbling guitar riffs and driving drums, a song, talking about packing up his things and telling his kids “I’m a disaster. I’m fading from your young life.” Later, on the organ-led Danger, he talks about being “a danger to myself.” The Band influences here are evident again on the nakedly open folk-soul Red Wing Blue Wing (“I’m full of charm, I’m full of whisky, and I’m full of shit most of the time“). Byrds feathers flutter across the chiming, soaring melody of The Same Town and you might discern a hint of Buddy Holly on Am I Breaking Down.
The sense of being alone and lost hangs heavy over I Remember This Place Being Bigger (“in a city after dark and I found I knew no one at all, it took the blood right out my heart”) with its shaker percussion and distorted bassline. This is reinforced as the subdued organ drone intro to the slow confessional Cardinal leads into the lines “there’s nothing I want just leave me alone”, recalling how “in the winter I left my happy home, don’t think I’ll be back any longer.”
Yet for all this, the album never wallows in self-pity, indeed, if anything, it’s almost masochistic in taking the blame, closing on the soulful Dylan-tinged lament of Weight Of The World conjuring the resigned weariness of Knocking’ On Heaven’s Door and the lengthy, spare You Are Out of Control with its spacey, echoey guitar, waves of percussion and hymnal backing croon building to a five minute sonic climax of wailing guitar, thrashing drums and squalling organ that do a good job in mirroring his emotional and mental state. The album was written in a Minnesota cabin during a winter of 20 degrees below, but, like its title, it’ll burn itself into your heart.
Furnace is released 27 January 2017