The Dead South “Chains & Stakes”

Six Shooter Records, 2024

Bandit songs for the love-lorn and trail-worn.

The Dead South Chains & Stakes. Six Shooter Records 2024It’s late, you’ve just blown into an unfamiliar town. In the dusty square, the crowds are gathering, and the band is beginning to play… Step into The Dead South’s latest album, ‘Chains & Stakes,’ a cinematic carnival crowded with lovers, losers, the drunk, and the doomed. The opener, ‘Blood on the Mind,’ kicks off with a rattling rhythm, like a bumpy train ride west. The lyrics are direct, the vocals upfront. There’s murder and there’s mayhem, and the deck is stacked,

Cause now you’re playing my game/ If you don’t do what I say/ I’m gonna throw you/ In the river, someday.

There’s a dominant bluegrass template, but the album avoids over-familiarity with shifting tones and dexterity to the rhythms. ‘Yours to Keep’ yearns and pleads, with the singer attempting to bargain with his own demons, while ‘20 Mile Jump‘ is a perfected 89 seconds of bluegrass self-delusion blues: The archetypal she-devil in ‘A Little Devil,’ is perhaps an overly worn trope; but the song moves with an irresistible hulking groove interpolated with neat staccato sidesteps.

Throughout the album, the tempo fluctuates; when it rises, there’s ecstatic abandon, the caboose flying loose, and rocketing rhythms stoking the engines. Yet, for every breakneck Bill Monroe boogie, there’s a mournful meditation or midnight incantation, such as the intoxicating guttural harmonies in ‘Completely, Sweetly,’ or the drunkard’s lullaby, ‘A Place I Hardly Know.

Chains & Stakes,’ following the pleasingly named double-header EP, ‘Easy Listening for Jerks, Parts I & II,’ marks the band’s first original music since ‘Sugar & Joy‘ in 2019. In the interim, the four-piece group has cultivated a dedicated live fan base, with disciples of the live show donning the band’s trademark black and white western attire that’s part undertaker, part vengeful preacher.

This theater spills onto the record, with its deep-throated spaghetti western harmonies and instrumental interludes like the beautiful ‘Where Has the Time Gone’ and ‘Clemency,’ drawing us closer to a concept album such as Willie Nelson’s ‘Red Headed Stranger.

Stand out is ‘Tiny Wooden Box’, a fast and loose groove cut across with regret: “I was going around those days/ Thinking everything/ Thinking everything/ Would be okay.” The change in tempo, the cinematic shift in pitch encapsulates the essence of The Dead South; distilling their multifaceted mayhem into a neat shot of perfection.

8/10
8/10

About Tom Harding 8 Articles
A writer with a love of all things country, folk, jazz and blues. By night I'm a poet with two published poetry books from Palewell Press, latest available now, "Afternoon Music." www.tomharding.net
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