The South has its sweet tea, magnolia blossoms and tiara-encrusted homecoming queens, but our special place wouldn’t be as deep or enduring without its ghosts, or as my good buddy William Faulkner called them, its “garrulous outraged baffled ghosts.” If you’ve ever spent time down below the equator of Mississippi or in the low country swamps around Charleston, SC, you’ve felt it. The Spanish moss seems to move on its own and untraceable echoes of sin and violence haunt the wind. When you’re “in the pines,” as the old song goes, “you shiver when the cold wind blows.” It’s part of our vital yin-yang existence; the dark that makes the light possible.
The Pine Hill Haints call what they make “Alabama ghost music,” because that’s where they’re from (Florence, to be specific, across the river from Muscle Shoals), because they traffic in genres that have been declared dead at one time or another and because they honed their neo-primitive vibe in a graveyard, legend has it. For about a decade now, they’ve produced gothic folk and post-modern old-time recordings that would fit comfortably next to your Dex Romweber and Southern Culture On The Skids albums. Washtub bass, bowed saw, rub-board percussion and spanky, crackling electric guitar are among their dark arts. Leading the charge is the striking voice of Jamie Barrier.
“I always wished North Alabama had its own sound. I didn’t know what it would be,” Barrier told music writer Eric Schultz recently. “We started reducing the music down to its most basic sounds, to the root level.” And so they have. Their recent run of albums on K Records show a band that can play the back porch or the big room with fire and fun. They add to the repertoire and enliven favorites like their great cover of my favorite “Handsome Molly” on the new Welcome To The Midnight Opry opus. (They also share our fancy for branded mic stands in the tradition of the Opry. Theirs has lightning bolts, so we shall allow them to swap it out for our usual MCR stands, and we might have a bit of stanchion envy to tell the truth.)
What else will we hear on this very Southern, but not entirely ghostly Wednesday night? Well the Honey Island Swamp Band will be visiting us from New Orleans, where they’ve won scads of awards in their short tenure. Wild story here. Four refugees from Hurricane Katrina wound up in San Francisco, where they formed the group to fill time before they coud return. A weekly residency at John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom Club honed their chemistry, which seems to include both Louisiana voodoo and Bay Area groove. And when they did get back to their home town, they were welcomed with a Big Easy Award for Best Roots Rock Artist in 2011. Leaders Chris Mule and Aaron Wilkinson seem extremely dedicated to showing y’all a good time.
Our booking braintrust saw duo John and Jacob at Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores, Alabama, then noticed their Americana/pop being played on Lightning 100. We loved their energy and their lock-and-key harmonies. They say they were raised on classic gospel harmonies, but it sounds at least as much like pop-aware, post modern Everly Brothers to us.
And there’s something special going on with our emerging artists the Kansas Bible Company, a gargantuan band of eleven guys that formed in Goshen, IN and then moved to Nashville lock, stock and horn section to play their brand of soulful rock and roll. They rented a run-down house as a group and renovated it into a proper residence and rehearsal space. Sounds like a good documentary. They’re surging with the energy and enthusiasm of youth and reports suggest their sets put all that on display. I love how they put it in their official bio: “The Kansas Bible Company is first and foremost a group of close friends that live and work communally together. They are more than just a group of musicians. They do everything together – eat, sleep, work, workout, shop, camp, talk, philosophize, etc. And playing music is at the center of it all.”
So come visit us in our hainted house, er, barn on Wednesday and get a fill of four established, evolving and emerging bands that will hopefully speckle the history books of music in our time hundreds of years hence when we’re all ghosts.