Sifting through a batch of CDs recently, one stood out from the rest as quite different and unexpected. It turned out to be Ramshackle Tabernacle by The August List.
Unfamiliar with The August List, I did my usual online trawl to find out more. Their first album, 2014’s O Hinterland, was well-received, even earning them a comparison to The White Stripes. The reason for that might be evident in their stripped-back, low-fi driving blues songs, like ‘Forty-Rod of Lightnin’’ on that album, but it would appear that they’ve now moved on a bit.
Ramshackle Tabernacle presents a much fuller sound that is more exploratory and makes use of the recording studio to diversify their sound. Less homespun rawness and more crafted, there’s a distinctly band-like feel to it.
Starting in with an exotic jumble of disorienting chants, Old Rip launches into a slow, menacing blues, led by Martin Child’s slightly processed vocals, which only add to a sense of dislocation. One of the album’s recurring themes is absence – whether through sleep like Rip Van Winkle, social withdrawal like James Lucas, or in the sad tale of disillusioned songwriter Connie Converse who simply upped and disappeared. So, it’s no wonder that the band has worked on creating sympathetic sonic atmospheres with scratchily tense violins, jangly guitars and, yes, stylophone solos.
It’s hard to believe that, apparently, initially Kerraleigh Child didn’t think she could sing. Yet her voice is mesmerising: by turns waifish or banshee – somewhere between Hope Sandoval’s dazed breathiness and PJ Harvey at her most primal. The dreamy ‘Where Has All The Fire Gone?’ even sounds a bit like Mazzy Star, with its softly fuzzy mixing and ethereal vocal. Contrast that with the feral wail over a wall of guitar at the end of ‘Wilderness’, a love song of an exceptional kind that can send shivers up the spine.
‘Palace In The Rock’ treads an indie-ish path, but there’s a more traditional alt.country sound in the tight harmonies and well-balanced voices of ‘I Am The Teeth’, a song with its strangely predatory lyric of ‘I am the teeth, and you are the feast’.
Closing with ‘The Ballad Of James Lucas And Betty Dupree’, with its rousing and even – hush, gentle listener – slightly sweary crowd-chorus, the fade-out laughter lets us know it’s all been good fun really. Hasn’t it?
Even at their most seductive melodically, there’s a sense of something dark about the lyrics and arrangements that leaves a vague, unsettling feeling that piques my interest. Americana is not always my thing, but this pair have created an original sound that’s just off-beat enough to reel me in and keep me hooked.
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‘Old Rip’ – official video: