The Dead South (from the EPs, Easy Listening for Jerks Part 1 and Part 2 on Six-Shooter Records) (by Lee Zimmerman)
You might expect a band that calls themselves The Dead South, whose members dress like Pennsylvania Quakers, ultra-Orthodox Jews, or gunslinging gamblers just back from Boot Hill — choose your own comparison based on your frame of reference — to make music that’s somewhat out of the ordinary. Indeed, that’s part of the very nature of this Canadian combo’s persona.
That said, despite that very conspicuous image, they’ve always shown a willingness to tap tradition. That’s one of the reasons why they’ve won a pair of Juno Awards, each for Traditional Album of the Year. So too, they’ve made it clear that they’re a communal combo, bound by bonds established while at university and nurtured ever since. Granted, their fame has yet to fully flourish south of our northern border, but it’s not due to the lack of drive or dexterity.
Those qualities come to bear on their latest release — well, two releases in fact — the boldly titled Easy Listening for Jerks Part 1 and Easy Listening for Jerks Part 2. They combine for a double disc offering that finds them revisiting classic country songs of a vintage variety, some old and some obscure. That said, even the familiar fare offers some unexpected twists, making each offering a fine fit for the band’s videocentric image. “Keep On the Sunny Side” starts off sounding like Johnny Cash in dire despair before launching into its more celebratory stance. On the other hand, the band’s version of the communal standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” is surprisingly somber, a decidedly different change from the revelry it’s generally known for. Even so, the most unlikely entry is a dirge-like version of “You Are My Sunshine”, one that seems to defy everything the song stands for. To paraphrase the late, great Bill Withers, ain’t no sunshine found there.
That’s not to say they go entirely off the grid. A version of the Doors’ standard
“People Are Strange” actually emulates the original in its tone and treatment.
The remainder of the material mostly consists of lesser-known songs, but happily, an upbeat approach all but obscures their obscurity. “Chop Suey” (System of a Down) is a jumble of noise and nonsense, but still surprisingly engaging. Likewise, the sound of Bluegrass dominates the mix, with songs such as “Pallet on the Floor”, “Matterhorn”, “We Used to Be on Vacation”, “Flint Hill Special’, and “Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brain” effectively elevate the energy.
So, the ultimate question is, who are the jerks they’re referring to in the title? One would suspect it’s those that don’t readily dive in. (By Lee Zimmerman)
Listen and buy the music of The Dead South, Easy Listening for Jerks Vol. 1 from the band’s store
Listen and buy the music of The Dead South, Easy Listening for Jerks Vol. 2 from the band’s store
For more information, please visit The Dead South website