Uncle Sinner “Trouble Of The World” (Independent, 2020)

Judging by the title of his first three albums, ‘Ballads And Mental Breakdowns’, ‘A Pocketful Of Glass Eyes’ and ‘Let The Devil In’, Michael Bodner who records as Uncle Sinner must have been to some dark places during his lifetime. Wikipedia says about Uncle Sinner that they’re a “Canadian Gothic country/Death Gospel” band and even Bodner says (probably tongue in cheek) that his music fits in with the old “post-traditional, post-modern, existential death country folk-blues” genre. He may be in a minority of one in both those genres but whatever box you want to put Uncle Sinner in, their (Bodner’s?) music is not exactly a barrel of laughs.

 ‘Trouble Of The World’ is Bodner’s fourth album and it’s not the most comfortable of listens. Bodner’s voice as an acquired taste and at times sounds like Tom Waits gargling with hot sand and it isn’t the gentlest of instruments.

The album itself consists of thirteen songs (plus two bonus tracks) several which are traditional blues songs such as a version of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Gallows Pole’ (which was based on an old blues song), ‘Motherless Child’ and ‘Jack O’ Diamonds’. All the songs on the album are attributed to Bodner except an excellent version of Blind Willie Johnson’s blues standard, ‘Can’t Keep From Crying’. One of Bodner’s original songs is one of the best tracks on the album ‘Our Little Things’ which is dedicated to the late Vic Chesnutt. There’s also an excellent instrumental ‘Glory In The Meeting House’ which features Bodner on banjo and some fine fiddle playing from Jeremy Penner. On several tracks, Bodner is accompanied by his son Dylan who plays various percussion instruments including the Cajon and also plays the harmonium.

Apart from banjo, Bodner plays guitar, mandolin, harmonica, bass and stomps. It’s the stomping and the rough and ready feel of the album that brings to mind Seasick Steve’s live concerts – although without Steve’s wry smile. Recorded, mixed and mastered by Bodner in his basement, at times the overall almost primitive sound feels like one of the field recordings made by Alan Lomax in the 50s and 60s and released on the Folkways label.

One of the reasons for the melancholy tone of the album could be that it’s dedicated to Matt “Fuller Vengeance” McLeod, a really good friend of Bodner’s who played on the previous albums and who sadly died a few months ago.

‘Trouble Of The World’ is an interesting album and well worth a listen if you like blues and gospel. Bodner’s voice isn’t an easy listen so this is definitely a late-night album and not one to play whilst eating your cornflakes in the morning.

A primitive sounding blues album from Winnipeg's Uncle Sinner

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