By now, it’s neither a novelty nor an understatement to compare gothic hillbilly foursome 16 Horsepower to Flannery O’Connor, with whom they share a love of gloomy portentousness, a flair for the grotesque, and a fondness for obscure Biblical analogies. If the aforementioned qualities don’t sound like a whole lot of fun, you’d be well advised to avoid Hoarse.
Recorded live in 1998 in Denver (where leader David Eugene Edwards is from) and Paris (where they’re adored), Hoarse has a solid sonic quality and a wise track selection. The songs are altered little from their studio versions, with the notable exception of a revamped, slowed-down “Horse Head” and a bluegrass-tinged “Black Lung”. “South Pennsylvania Waltz” and “Black Soul Choir” are both tightly contained and gorgeous, “Brimstone Rock” is typically fervent, and the group maintains its usual aura of murky dread throughout.
That 16 Horsepower remain essentially unaltered from their doomsaying, early ’90s selves is both a credit to their consistency and a bit problematic. Maybe that’s one reason why they try to enliven the proceedings with three equally effective covers: an earnest version of Joy Division’s “Day Of The Lords”, an uncharacteristically vigorous reworking of Gun Club’s swampy “Fire Spirit”, and a slowed-down “Bad Moon Rising”. The last is an obvious choice — in three verses, John Fogerty does everything 16 Horsepower has been trying to do for eight years.