The Dead South – Illusion & Doubt
DevilDuck Records – 23 March 2018
Hailing from Regina, Canada, The Dead South are a quartet formed back in 2012, releasing their debut album in 2015 via German label DevilDuck Records. Illusion & Doubt, their second release, surfaced in Canada a year later but is only now getting a wider release on the back of their surging reputation on the bluegrass scene.
Currently lining up as lead singer and guitarist Nat Hilts, mandolinist Scott Pringle, banjo player Eliza Mary Doyle (who replaced founder member Colton Crawford who plays on the album but subsequently quit with exhaustion) and, an unlikely feature for the genre, cellist Danny Kenyon, the instrumentation here augmented by and pedal steel, they’re a lively combo with only a couple of tracks that might relatively be described as ballads.
Trading in, as they put it, songs about lovin’, cheatin’, killin’ and drinkin’, they stride out with rollicking dysfunctional relationship number Boots while Every Man Needs A Chew, which slips into a gypsy mazurka midway with Eduard Minevitch on fiddle, is, basically, about drinking whisky and chewing things over while taking a crap. Their somewhat eccentric and skewed approach to lyrics is also in evidence on Dead Man’s Isle, which, is about some guy who’s being sent off to prison after he got drunk and let his dog drive the car.
Booze also flows liberally on the goodtime stomps One-Armed Man and Time For Crawlin’, the latter being about, as Hilt describes it. “drinking yourself into trouble, getting kicked in the ass for it, and just begging to come in.” It’s pills, however, that are the drug of choice in Miss Mary, a bluesier number from which the album title comes and concerns a woman who, while high, hallucinates her husband screwing another, shoots him and dumps his the body in the garbage, only, as the tempo slows down, to wake up in jail realising it was just a toxic nightmare about her worst fears. But he’s still dead.
It’s not all hangovers and horniness. Given an appropriate Dixieland trotalong feel, The Good Lord has a Civil War setting with a disillusioned soldier and his pregnant wife both hoping he ’ll survive “this shitstorm” and get home to see his baby. As the title suggests, conflict is also the core of the folksier Texicana-flavoured The Massacre Of El Kuroke, which, opening with storm effects and fiddle and featuring Ian Cameron on pedal steel, a five-minute ‘The Massacre of El Kuroke’, recounts a young boy’s loss of innocence during the, I assume, fictional bloodbath.
Likewise, the album ends with an eight-minute excursion into spaghetti western territory for Gunslinger Glory, the tempo shifting from banjo flurry to junkyard clank as the narrator tells of wanting to be the quickest draw and “the toughest motherfucker in these lands”, only to wind up telling his story lying on an undertaker’s slab with a bullet in his head.
With the other cuts including the I Saw The Light-styled Hard Day, the evocatively titled thigh-slapping Smoochin’ In The Ditch and the brief instrumental Delirium which affords a plucked banjo showcase from Crawford. Musically jovial but lyrically dark, this is solid old-school bluegrass filtered through a punk sensibility, more Pogues than Krauss, fuelled with an energy that suggests they also tear the roof off live.
You can find out as they’re on tour in the UK in April
The Dead South UK Tour – April 2018
16 :: The Garage, London
17 :: Wedgewood Rooms,Southsea
18 :: Arlington Arts,Newbury
19 :: Open, Norwich
20 :: Esquires Bedford, Bedford
21 :: The Soundhouse, Leicester (Matinee Show 2pm)
21 :: The Soundhouse, Leicester
22 :: Henry Tudor House, Shrewsbury
24 :: Club Academy, Manchester
25 :: Wylam Brewery, Newcastle Upon Tyne
26 :: Rescue Rooms, Nottingham
27 :: Yellow Arch, Sheffield
28 :: Anson Rooms, Bristol
29 :: Watering Hole, Perranporth