Deadstring Brothers - Cannery Row
Record Label: Bloodshot
Release Date: April 9, 2013
There's a lot to like about the Deadstring Brothers' new release Cannery Row. For starters, there's ample amounts of pedal steel, organ and plenty of searing guitar solos. There's also a trove of lyrics as ruminative as "I see a mother with a child waiting in vain whose husband is in the Army and won't be home again." But for all the reasons Cannery Row is enjoyable, it is equally disappointing. The band hinges on the intonations of lead singer Kurt Marschke. But nowhere on Cannery Row does he ever sound fully comfortable, confident or crisp. In many ways the album feels like it was slapped together in a week's time. While this is probably not the case there's far too many disappointing numbers that dot the landscape of Cannery Row to solidify its place as one of the year's best roots-rock releases.
The album opens winningly with the lilting "Like a California Wildfire," which draws its strength from a twinkling piano interlude at the 2:45 mark. "Its Morning Irene," is ultra-twangy and segues into a harmonica-and-dobro hoedown in the latter stages. Deadstring Brothers have never been shy of augmenting their picking abilities but on "Its Morning Irene" they shine rather splendidly. Arguably one of the album's most confident efforts is "Oh Me Oh My" a sturdy and sleek effort that draws on the aforementioned organ and lap steel to do most of the heavy lifting.
Pedal steel anchors "Long Lonely Ride," the first of a few throwaways that leave quite a lot to be desired. While the lyrics and the music itself are fine, Marschke's vocals are limp and barely felt. Ditto to the countryfied "Lucille's Honky Tonk," "Bobbie Jo" and "Just a Deck of Cards." If the latter has any lasting value it is in the band's ability to improvise and jam like the best. Though labeling Deadstring Brothers a jam-band is probably a stretch, there's a good portion of "Just a Deck of Cards," that might make some jam bands blush.
The album's best moments are in the LP's latter stages. The title track is funereal, elegiac and hymnal, while "The Mansion" is gospel-inflected and quite tremendous. "Talkin' With a Man in Montana" is a rousing singalong and arguably one of Marschke's best songs to date. In the end, Cannery Row will find favor with those that like the dust and rust of alt. country, but for those of that want something deeply affecting, long-lasting and monumental will probably have to look elsewhere.