Modern folk contemporaries The Dead South lay down some grass with a selection of stripped back, soulful tunes, which makes for an affable listening experience.

Release Date: February 9, 2014 | Six Shooter Records | Facebook | Bandcamp

Canadian contemporary folk quartet The Dead South are often credited in many instances as being one of the main reasons as to why bluegrass and traditional American folk music has stayed somewhat relevant with a fair extent of recognition amongst mainstream audiences. The band’s first album Good Company (2014) demonstrated a darker and more DIY aesthetic which diverts from the more widely appreciated and safe musical appearance of other contemporary bluegrass counterparts like Mumford and Sons, whilst subsequent releases Illusion & Doubt (2016) and Sugar and Joy (2019) made successful climbs on the Billboard’s US Bluegrass chart coming in at 5th and 1st respectively. The band have also often injected a kind of rawness and grit into their folk playing style that embraces a punk rock ethos, allowing the band to gain admiration from an alternative audience as well as commercially. For their fourth album, however, The Dead South return to their roots in a sense that they’re committing to a more simplistic, folk-based songwriting formula that delivers a combination of raw punk energy and soothing Americana warmth.

Commencing with a polka shuffle-like track “Blood on the Mind”, we are entrenched in a foggy, eerily inspired bayou which musically unfolds through a mysterious and tense aura. This dark form of storytelling continues in “Yours to Keep” with a bluesy backdrop that allows the acoustic folk instrumentation with the freedom to depict the album’s enigmatic themes of murderous obsession.

Taking things in a completely different direction, “20 Mile Jump” plays like classic bluegrass standard which encompasses those typical thematic folk blues and country tropes from resounding banjo rolls and run downs, walking bass rhythmic backing, and hollering vocal lines that sing of a lust for drink and devotion. “Where Has the Time Gone” is a much more progressively derived short instrumental piece however that allows the acoustic guitar to personify the opaque and mystical aspects of the album compared with the mindless optimistic country numbers that juxtapose these spaces. “A Little Devil” continues this dark harmonic perception and progressive bluegrass expression allowing the band to showcase their excellent musicianship and variety through various structural changes and progressions.

Playing more into the country-folk storytelling, “Son of Ambrose” tells of a young man’s tale of family, companionship, lost love, war, and bare-knuckle boxing, all the ingredients one would really need for a perfect country song. Another instrumental track, “Clemency” is one of the tracks most tense and mournful sporting a slow fingerpicking guitar line with a dampening fiddle melody over the top to really conceive the record’s brooding nature. “Completely, Sweetly” succumbs to a dirty blues anthemic feel with powerful hook-like choruses and nasty banjo riffs that exhibits greater hard rock interpretation.

“A Place I Hardly Know” is sweeter, harmonious tune that allows one to sit back and appreciate the band’s ability to incorporate warmer timbral instrumentation through reverberating string arrangements and the soft-spoken vocals. “The Cursed Contessa” similarly incorporates this geniality whilst throwing in the much-welcomed hillbilly clichés of meaningless lyrical play and Scruggs style banjo rolls that lets the listener visualise the moonshine as they sit rocking in their front porch. “Tiny Wooden Box” further explores the progressive side of the band’s portfolio allowing the instrumentation to take charge in section whilst leaving room for tasty hooks.

The album’s final instrumental track “Yore” acts as a closing soundtrack to a Western film with the mountain banjo fanfare rounds things off and introduces the final song on this album “Father John”, a story of a wicked priest who killed, drowned, lynched, and hung people in the name of the lord. It’s a fitting end to this record that explores a variety of musical avenues and shifts in dynamics and genre tropes.

Whilst The Dead South aren’t exactly interested in stylistic diversion and experimentation outside of their folk-oriented bases, much can be said of how the band have been able to continue to stay true of their roots that encompasses elements of blues, bluegrass, country, folk, and Americana that utilises very precise musicianship and technical ability with dark and mysterious overtones that still manage to captivate wider audiences with pop-oriented inclusion that doesn’t fall flat or pander to a lower level of consumption. Chains and Stakes is therefore a perfect record that demonstrates the best of the band and allows them to showcase their best qualities that will leave long-time fans fulfilled and give something to casual listeners that is at its basic level enjoyable and appreciative.

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