Pawn Shop Saints’ fourth album captures the moment.
‘Weeds’ is the fourth album from the Pawn Shop Saints, stalwarts of New England Americana. The Saints are led by singer/songwriter Jeb Barry who writes the songs, and does most of the producing. But they are musicians who play well together, which is not surprising as Josh Pisano (drums) and Michael O’Neill (guitars, vocals) have worked with Barry for a while. On ‘Weeds’ they are joined by Tony Pisano (accordion) and Amy Attias (fiddle) to create an almost anachronistic sound. And ‘Weeds’ has been described as the Saint’s folk album. It does fits well into the tradition of broadsides ballads, quickly produced songs that addressed the news of the day, in that Weeds is of the moment.
Pestilence has long inspired art; Boccaccio’s book The Decameron’ Pieter Bruegel’s painting The Triumph of Death, Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, The Masque of the Red Death, and of course, Albert Camus’ novel The Plague. It would be fair to add ‘Weeds’ to the list.
‘Covid Unit’ encapsulates the fear and heart break while noting the insouciance that led to many deaths and the downfall of a Prime Minister. ‘James’ marks the self-obsession that prevents real mourning, “We’re all just wondering, “How will I go, and when?”, Just thinking about ourselves, As James was dying”. And ‘Miss June’ memorializes all those people who died alone and unsung. Barry describes ‘Twine’ as “Another song about loss, and surviving loss, written as a tribute to John Prine. It was written the day after his death due to Covid. I tried to write a song I thought he would have written.” These songs make ‘Weeds’ a pandemic album. Many recent releases are given that tag, but are more about their being recorded because somebody couldn’t tour, they aren’t about the reason that prevented them. ‘Weeds’ is about the reason, and it is among the most visceral of pandemic albums.
But ‘Weeds’ is more than that. There are songs about the violence that seems an essential element of American culture. ‘War’ and ‘Memorial Day’ reflects American’s fascination with war; appalled at the horror and cost while wanting to honour and memorialize the veterans and their trauma. ‘Generation Lockdown’ is even closer to home. Barry is a school teacher and sings of American’s refusal to stop slaughtering its children, “We could change this but we won’t, We could stop it but we don’t, Lock the door, hit the lights, hit the ground. Another day in generation lockdown.”
‘All Girls Break Hearts’, ‘Preacher’ and ‘Chelsea Off My Mind’ are songs of lost love and broken hearts. And though the Saints are a good 1200 miles from Mississippi, ‘Southern Drawl In Heaven’ follows the trend to at least give a nod to Dixie and the hillbilly-isation of Americana.
‘Weed’s’ is a very good album, with songs that could become classics. In twenty years ‘Miss June’ may be introduced as something discovered by Allen Lomax in some holler. More importantly it captures a pivotal moment in the 21st. century.