Jump to Content

Welcome! You’re browsing the No Depression Archives

No Depression has been the foremost journalistic authority on roots music for well over a decade, publishing 75 issues from 1995 to 2008. No Depression ceased publishing magazines in 2008 and took to the web. We have made the contents of those issues accessible online via this extensive archive and also feature a robust community website with blogs, photos, videos, music, news, discussion and more.

Close This

Waxed - Record Review from Issue #59 Sept-Oct 2005

Freakwater

Thinking Of You… (Thrill Jockey)

As the one-sheet that describes the new Freakwater album attests, the group indeed employs a more dappled sonic palette — brass, pump organ, violins (instead of fiddles) — here than they have on previous records. Still, the burst of guitar feedback that opens the third song on the disc initially reminded me not of new sounds but of the B-side of Freakwater’s very first single, a cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” that they released just as the United States was preparing for its 1991 attacks in the Persian Gulf. As the conflagration that ignites the new track gives way to bittersweet acoustic guitars and harmonies, though, it’s obvious that the song, called “Buckets Of Oil”, isn’t a new version of “War Pigs”. More like its second coming, and just as free of cheek.

“Buckets of oil, buckets of wine/To grease up these gears and shut down my mind,” Catherine Irwin begins, her wincing alto leavened by Janet Bean’s dulcet harmonies. “Buckets of nails, truckloads of blood/To float this ship of fools up out of the mud.” So continue the two women, closing the opening chorus before getting down to the nitty-gritty of George Bush’s blood-for-oil diplomacy and that of his father before him.

Invoking images of amber waves of grain and purple mountains majesty (the latter are likened to so many purple-heart medals shining on a “sad hill of [soldiers'] graves”), Irwin and Bean sing of a not-so-beautiful America upon which the face of God doesn’t shine and where the “yellow rose will rise for the father and the son.” Alluding both to the celebrated flower of the Bushes’ home state and to the cowardice of the two Presidents, Irwin and Bean paint a nation “Where the winners and the losers, from sea to shining sea/Have been bought and sold and most often had for free.” Meanwhile, the susurrus of feedback (compliments of co-producer Tim Rutili and Califone) comes creeping back, eventually drowning out everything around it, much like the fundamentalist humbug of the Bush Administration.

It might seem like the neo-Appalachian country-rockers have suddenly gone political on us. But this barbed greeting card to the Bushes and our slumbering nation (on the CD’s cover, the words “Thinking Of You” are cast in roses and flames against a backdrop of a deceptively placid sea) is utterly in keeping with what Freakwater has been about since the beginning. Witness “Ugly Man” and “Waitress Song”, a pair of not-so-happy-go-lucky rambles from the ’90s that say as much about the hegemony of patriarchy as the dissertations of most any second- or third-wave feminist. Or “Louisville Lip”, Irwin’s aggrieved lament for Muhammad Ali and the time he threw his gold medal into the Ohio River when a “Loserville” restaurant refused to serve him because he was black. Even the band’s theology is political; the line “There’s nothing so pure as the kindness of an atheist” is as bracing and prophetic as the best Liberation Theology.

Even before Steve Earle got his consciousness raised, or before Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy discovered Woody Guthrie, Irwin and Bean were singing the body politic. It’s just that the two women (especially Irwin) plumb life and death through narrative and evocation rather than through slogans, self-mythologizing or mythopoeia. Their new album contains plenty of studies in miniature — from “Cathy Ann”, a wrenching meditation on the death of one of Guthrie’s daughters (Cathy Ann is variant of Irwin’s given name), to “Hi Ho Silver”, where Irwin assails cheap grace and other palliatives — most of them opening onto wider horizons. Indeed, fifteen years on, Freakwater continues to make profoundly lovely, humanistic records that confront the brokenness and gainsay the bad faith pervading our world, not the least of which are certain arrogant, hypocritical elements in the United States.

Enjoy the ND archives? Consider making a donation with PayPal or send a check to:
No Depression, 460 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94108

Discuss

Did you enjoy this article? Start a discussion about it, or find out what others are saying in the No Depression Community forum.

Join the Discussion »

Find out what's going on in roots music. Share concert photos and videos, learn about new artists, blog about the music you love.

Join the No Depression Community »

Originally Featured in Issue #59 Sept-Oct 2005

Buy our history before it’s gone!

Each issue is artfully designed and packed full of great photos that you don‘t get online. Visit the No Depression store to own a piece of history.

Visit the No Depression Store »


From the Blogs

  • The Post-Newport Earthquake: Watkins Family Hour
    Did you feel it? That's what everybody in Los Angeles asks each other whenever a shake or quake rattles and rolls through the valleys and flatlands. Sometimes there's just a release of pressure beneath the crust, and other times it's an up and down jolt that lasts only a second. And then you forget about it. Until the next time.  Sunday night […]
  • Chris Isaak's Life Beyond the Sun
    In 2011, Chris Isaak took the long overdue step of recording an album at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn. It wasn't just any album, it was faithful interpretations of classic songs by his musical mentors and heroes: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. It didn’t take much of a leap of imagination to predict that the album would be […]
  • Dave & Phil Alvin & the Guilty Ones – Dakota Jazz Club (Minneapolis, Minn. – July 26, 2014)
    “My brother Dave is a triple threat and I’m so proud of him – singer, songwriter, and guitar player.” That’s what Phil Alvin told a July 26 sellout crowd at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis, Minn. The show was winding down but fans were totally pumped as the Alvin brothers exchanged pleasantries and showed no sign of their famed sibling rivalry after Dave […]
  • Celebrating 40 Years of Schoolkids Records: An Interview with Owner Stephen Judge
    This year marks the 40th anniversary of Watergate. That's not really anything to celebrate, it's not an accomplishment, and what's that got to do with music? Nothing. It simply marks the inevitable passage of time. But, 2014 also marks the 40th anniversary of Raleigh, N.C.'s Schoolkids Records, which is an accomplishment and is definitely […]
  • Ray LaMontagne at the Woods at Fontanel (Nashville, Tenn. – July 25, 2014)
    Ray LaMontagne writes great songs and makes great records. And that's certainly no small feat. His live shows, though, while being technically and musically superlative, really don't leave the audience with a whole lot to hang on to other than the technique and the music. There's no personal engagement on LaMontagne's part. It's as i […]
  • Freight Train Boogie Show #264 features new music from Old Crow Medicine Show, Carolina Story, Yvette Landry and The Sweet Potatoes
    FTB Show #264 features the new album by Old Crow Medicine Show called Remedy.  Also new music from Carolina Story, Yvette Landry and The Sweet Potatoes. Here's the iTunes link to subscribe to the FTB podcasts.  Here's the direct link to … […]

Shop Amazon by clicking through this logo to support NoDepression.com. We get a percentage of every purchase you make!


Subscribe To the No Depression Newsletter

Subscribe to the No Depression Newsletter