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Interesting And Heartfelt Tribute - 79%

TheKEZ, September 29th, 2012

In addition to giving us a great record, it seems the Shrinebuilder project has also sparked a highly productive friendship and working relationship between Neurosis’ Scott Kelly and indisputable doom overlord Wino. This new album finds the pair (alongside Kelly’s Neurosis accomplice and established solo artist in his own right, Steve Von Till) paying tribute to Texan songwriter and Country pioneer Townes Van Zandt, a fascinating character who has enjoyed cult status amongst connoisseurs of the genre whilst also being hailed as one of musical history’s underappreciated greats. It’s a move that has taken many of these artists’ fans by surprise, and I imagine many will be like myself here, approaching the record with fresh ears due to an unfamiliarity with Zandt’s original works. Both Kelly and Von Till have proven themselves to be highly proficient artists even in such a stripped back setting, and Wino has recently taken to the acoustic troubadour role like a duck to water (as evidenced by his frankly beautiful solo record ‘Adrift’), so many have been expecting great things from this unexpected release.

There are nine tracks on offer here, with each artist contributing three of their favourite Van Zandt songs. The differences and similarities between each vocalist are striking, with Kelly’s input seemingly favouring a starker approach, injecting ‘Lungs’ with the same bleak pulse that underscores much of Neurosis’ output, whilst ‘St John, The Gambler’s melancholy, lyrical flow has a certain timeless quality to it. ‘Tecumseh Valley’ unfolds with a sombre, lazy elegance that’s faintly reminiscent of some of Michael Gira’s softer work with the Angels of Light, perhaps a testament to how archetypal Van Zandt’s style of song writing has become.

Von Till’s gruff, weathered tones have always resonated with me more than Kelly’s gentler vocals, and his rich voice shines through on this release like a perfectly aged auburn whiskey. Von Till opens the record on an extremely vulnerable note, with the tender ‘If I Needed You’. The beautifully simple ‘Black Crow Blues’ is enthralling, and a clear album highlight, whilst ‘Snake Song’ introduces further instrumentation and some tasteful synths to weave a soothing, slowly evolving tapestry of sound.

All of Wino’s songs here are uniformly astonishing, which is no surprise really; from the blunt honesty of Saint Vitus songs like ‘Dying Inside’ to the gorgeous strains of ‘Adrift’, Wino is an artist that evidently wears his heart on his sleeve. His contributions here are definitely the strongest of the three, as ‘Rake’ rings out with a warm but vulnerable passion, his gorgeous vocals soaring over the simple acoustic arrangement with aplomb. His dulcet tones invest ‘Nothing’ with the same emotive power whilst making the song all his own – this track wouldn’t seem out of place at all on ‘Adrift’. ‘A Song For’ resounds with a neck tingling world weariness and is perhaps the album’s zenith, its subtle chord changes and haunting harmonies providing a very powerful and enormously affecting finish to the album.

This record does a fine job of unveiling the songs of Townes Van Zandt to a new generation, but also offers a fascinating glimpse at another aspect of three of metal’s most creative lifers’ artistic practices. Whilst the decision to record a tribute album to one of country’s most under appreciated sons may seem slightly jarring on paper, in practice it makes perfect sense. As a newcomer to Van Zandt, I can’t judge how fans will take to this release but these songs instantly stood out to my ears, resonating with a heartfelt sincerity and an accomplished story telling skill. Whilst this may not be an essential purchase, anyone with an appreciation of the art of song writing will find much to enjoy here.

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