A haunting collection of poetic psych folk from Milwaukee.
Poetry has always been a rich source for songwriters, but this writer’s knowledge of American poets is most probably lacking. Milwaukee based pedal steel guitarist Will Hansen is a big fan of poet Dennis Johnson, who inspires much of this album (the title of the album is one of Johnson’s most respected poems) and who sadly died just prior to it’s release.
The wonderful writer Raymond Carver said of this – Johnson’s third and most widely acclaimed book of verse – “The subject matter is harrowingly convincing, is nothing less than a close examination of the darker side of human conduct. Why do we act this way? Johnson asks. How should we act? His best poems are examples of what the finest poetry can do: bring us closer to ourselves and at the same time put us in touch with something larger.”
Old Pup is described as a cosmic folk/country blues outfit with a love for lap steel, singing saw and surrealism and they’ve recently shared a stage with the great Charlie Parr. Hansen is a really accomplished musician who plays guitar, bass, singing saw, lap steel, mandolin, harmonica, banjo, cigar box guitar and broom. They’ve released one previous album in 2019 – ‘Junk Draw Daydreams’ – and Hansen was previously in psych outfit Big Dill and the Boys.
This new Old Pup album opens with ‘Screen Crawlers’ which includes some powerful harmonica, organ and cello joining Hansen’s suitably low fi vocals. Half way though it halts it’s momentum, which brings a suitably spooky end to the song. ‘Town v Train’ has a Lost Highway feel over some lovely acoustic guitar, cello and haunting vocals and fades to a lovely finish. ‘Slow Death’ is actually quite an upbeat song with a wonderful Lee Hazlewood feel and some suitably fruity language to add true authenticity.
The title track is another haunting song rich with a cinematic feel as if a modern Sergio Leone style film could use it on it’s soundtrack. ‘Cut The Difference’ is a sprightly, bass rich, pedal steel melange, bringing alive the ghosts of the western trails. Final track ‘Beware O Wander’ is another atmospheric spook fest with hints of Lynchian mystery and Velvet Underground echoes.
The album artwork is beautiful and really special but the songs themselves are an aural drive through some breath-taking rural scenery, augmented by Hansen’s distinctive and idiosyncratic storytelling.