The Builders and the Butchers
The Builders and The Butchers
Bladen County Records
The Builders and the Butchers have been hailed in some quarters as taking up the local banner for the Decemberists- since the latter moved on to major label stardom and whom are now seldom seen in our local scene. While the newcomers share certain attributes, including a decidedly antebellum atmosphere, they lack the literary precocity of the Meloy clan. To these ears the band more resembles the Bluegrass intimations of Kevin Ritchie and his work as Bingo; with a touch of the funereal folk of Ritchie Young and Loch Lomond- though, strangely, vocalist Ryan Soller’s whining voice also closely recalls that of David Surkamp of the ‘70s Seattle band, Pavlov’s Dog. Let that percolate in your brain for a while.
The music is loose around the edges- sort of sing-along songs for the modern Gangs of New York. “The Night Pt. 1” is an uptempo dirge, whereas “Pt.2” is a real dirge, with Soller caterwauling into the blackness. “Red Hands” combines Harvey Tumbleson’s bubbly mandolin with guests Annalisa Tornfelt’s moaning fiddle and Adrienne Hatkins jangly banjo- to good effect. A sense of drama pervades. “Spanish Death Song,” is livened up by drummer Paul Seely’s mournfully dramatic trumpet work. Flores por los meurtos. “Black Dresses” holds to the dingy motif, slap happy in the face of begrimed gloom. The bride wore black.
“Bottom of the Lake” breaks with the stylistic mood of the previous arrangements- with symphonic strings sawing away behind Soller’s raucous banshee banter. “The Gallows” brings to mind the slightly intoxicated barroom flair of Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog, with a heavy dose of the Pogues thrown in, for morbid folk authenticity. Tumbleson’s mandolin swims across “Bringing Home The Rain,” a sort of bluegrass jig, with Soller’s customary dreary lyrical outlook lending jaundiced perspective to the jauntily morose proceedings. Like a wake for a dead circus.
“The Coal Mine Fall” picks up where the previous song left off. Like turning a corner onto a new street, festooned with black bunting. The shadowy gospel call-and-response background vocals of “Slowed Down Trip to Hell is no less jolly than its predecessors: meaning not at all. A dim world view, to say the least. “Ten Miles Wide” maintains the chunky acoustic guitar setting for another happily bleak lament about death and misery. The final song of the set, “Find Me in the Air,” vaguely sounds like “After The Goldrush” period Neil Young, and is by far the cheeriest number of the bunch- which isn’t saying much.
The Builders and the Butchers sing drinking songs for the chronically depressed and irrepressibly downtrodden, with a sublime rousing melancholy hanging over the good times like the breath of the Devil himself. Ryan Soller’s unique approach to a song is, like the Decemberists, a throwback to earlier days; although, just when those days might have actually transpired is somewhat hard to say. All the same, his musical vision is consistent with itself, if a tad anachronistic. Still, it is a sure thing that this band could liven up any Friday night of inebriation with the frivolous songs of the dying and the dead.