Well, here’s a thing we’ve been waiting for: another subdivision of the Americana genre, with Elouise Walker and her band declaring their sound to be Blackgrass. It’s distinctive from the already familiar Southern Gothic by (for the most part) eschewing the overtly “spooky” overtones and concentrating more on dissipation, disassociation and a generally downtrodden and bleak outlook on life – and then coupling that with reworked Bluegrass and Old Timey standards. Amazing Grace, to just take one such, swings back and forth like a drunken addict mumbling to herself in a cracked and wheezing vocal which carries little conviction of the reality of the salvation that’s being claimed. The same trick applied to Silent Night makes for a seasonal warning – Elouise Walker sings with the voice of one who should be kept away from small children, whilst the interplay between six string banjo and slide guitar on the one hand and a deeply mournful cello and double bass on the other just add to the ominous feeling that something bad is about to happen. That same cello and bass combine on Evil to produce a darkly brooding instrumental that would grace any rural based slasher movie that was looking for a soundtrack for the stalking the terrified teens through the long grass scenes.
As well as the imaginative conjunction of bluegrass and classical instruments making for a series of menacing vignettes when combined with Elouise Walker’s voice there are other dark avenues that the band explore. I’ll be good to you paints a scene of an uncommitted romantic user – Rich Dembowski sounds smoothly convincing over a simple guitar line and subtle pedal steel, but he’s not crooning endless fidelity, rather the opposite: “I’ll be there for you not through sleet and snow / I’ll be there for you until I have to go”. Elsewhere there’s Fire & Brimstone which stomps along like the zombie Carter Family, singing about an apocalyptic judgement day “I saw a fire, fire and brimstone, coming down on my head / I was all alone” and Saturn Bar which brings in a New Orleans voodoo vibe on a tale of low down living and the achievement of bar crawling redemption as “liquor hits my lips like it’s communion”. Deep Water is an album of Americana for the Walking Dead generation, taking what we think we know and then not hiding the harshness of life with a pretty tune.
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What do you get if you mix Bluegrass with classical instruments, a touch of the blues, a New Orleans funeral procession brass section and tales of bad things happening to people with terrible problems? According to Elousie Walker and her band: Blackgrass, and who are we to argue?