Traditional music with a contemporary twist, contemporary music with a traditional twist.
Two EPs, many genres covered, a Bluegrass feel but not entirely. The Dead South are nothing if not wilful in their determination to subvert our expectations of traditional and not-so-traditional songs. Sure, there’s fingerpicking banjo and harmonies aplenty, there are songs like, ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ on Part 1, so far so expected. It is when we approach Part 2 that reaches such delights as System of a Down cover, ‘Chop Suey’ which sounds like a blend of REM and The Exploited, that heads might start a turnin’. Minds certainly need to be kept open here as it could well be the case that not all of the contents of these two EPs are going to appeal to Bluegrass purists, though by the same token fans of the Rock band, Ween are probably not going to be going crazy for covers of classics by The Carter Family of which a couple reside on Part One.
‘Keep on the Sunny Side’ sang the Carter Family and now The Dead South, the latter with irony traces to obviate saccharine content. This, being Part One’s opener, certainly sounds like Bluegrass, oozing with banjo goodness and sweet harmonies. The close of the 19th Century saw the origins of, ‘Pallet on the Floor’; this is an up-tempo version very different from the lugubrious Gillian Welch version. ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ takes an appropriately funereal tempo, almost coming to a halt when the band stops playing and all that is to be heard is the sung word, “Undertaker” before the music recommences. Earl Scruggs would be unlikely to object to the version of, ‘Flint Hill Special’ and ‘You are my Sunshine’ whilst Bluegrass in sound, has a dark undertow deviating away from other versions such as that by, The Pine Ridge Boys.
And now we come to Part 2 which opens with the instrumental, ‘Yahoos and Triangles’ which those familiar with the sitcom, ‘King of the Hill’ will recognise. Though we never really saw, Jim Morrison’s ‘Unplugged’, the version of, ‘People are Strange’ featured here gives a fair indication of what this song might have sounded like in this format. Cold War Kids sang, ‘We Used to Vacation’ now it is the turn of The Dead South to add their twist before they move on to their cover of, Ween’s, ‘Help me Scrape the Mucus off my Brain’. Perhaps it is not surprising to see such a cover here as the lyrics are predictably quirky and absurd, qualities that seem to emanate periodically from The Dead South themselves.
Traditional music with a contemporary twist, contemporary music with a traditional twist. The Dead South’s ability to take other artists’ songs and mould them to their own shape is to be applauded; only expect to have your expectations broken.
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