Deep stories to wistful harmonies.
Describing themselves as “two parts folk, one part americana, and a dash of indie vibes” this Nashville duo could add southern gothic. But listening to this, the third release from multi-instrumentalist, singer and co-writer Cody Clark and lead vocalist and lyricist Dale Chapman, the overwhelming impression is of a deep reverence for the art of storytelling. The clue is in the title as they recount tales inspired by experiences of theirs, others, love and nostalgia.
A chance meeting in a Nashville coffee house soon after Clark’s arrival from his Oregon home soon led to their shared interest in songwriting bearing fruit. Trained on classical guitar, Clark switched to steel strings to develop his finger-picking style. Most of Chapman’s writing had been prose. These roots are evident throughout ‘Tall Tales & Fables’.
The gothic kicks in straightaway with the eerie ‘Afterlife’. Clark’s edgy picking makes way for Chapman’s folk-tinged warning, “People only ever write the nicest things on headstones/ Turn all the dirty secrets and the bad blood back to dust”. The message is clear, don’t look back. ‘Bruised Feet’ picks up the pace and from very English folk the duo head almost as far as bluegrass with their robust harmonies.
‘Ghost Towns’ returns to the mysteries of the past. The imagery is of a small town long departed but what of those left behind? “There’s nothing quite like the people left walking around ghost towns”. An orchestral breeze swirls around these lonely streets adding layers of the supernatural to Chapman’s other-worldly voice.
Many miles travelled provide a rich source of inspiration. The high tempo acoustic country of ‘Ohio’ blends a sense of distance and longing, “‘Cause I’ve been stuck in Carolina trying to find my way home/ Guess the rails can take me north back to my lover in the snow/ And I’m just trying to get back to Ohio”. ‘Georgia’ is poetry, a brutally frank assessment of a birthplace. If there is vulnerability in her voice Chapman never succumbs. “They say redemption isn’t something you could ever earn or buy/ But Earth’s a bare-knuckle boxing match, a winner-take-all fight”.
Turning to the personal, ‘Stay’ is a profoundly moving dialogue between two sides of a relationship struggling with the ravages of mental illness. The harmonies and vocal counterpoint build through a soothing melody to strings of desperation yet the most powerful part is the pleading bridge, “Don’t give up on me”.
‘Whistling Tree’ is a story of forbidden love. Around that one secluded place swings a full emotional outpouring from fury to hatred to blissful contentment. It is a place of life and death. Chapman gives full rein to her diverse vocal styles expressing her rage in what sounds like a field holler before calming to a lush Joni Mitchell style. Instrumentally Clark matches this passion with equal diversity from his gentle picking to screaming fiddle.
With sensitive production Clark and Chapman captivate their audience with intense narratives that tend towards the dark with a vocal and musical finesse. ‘Tall Tales & Fables’ requires the listener’s full attention to appreciate properly Haunted Like Human’s poignant, sparse musical style.