Pity the poor guitar rocker. It's pretty unfashionable these days to plug in and
play your heart out. The cycles will recycle again, and it's good for pop to
try out new trousers every so often, but in the meantime, while few are
paying attention, a record like Debt and Departure is going to get
lost. Too bad -- the major-label debut of Those Bastard Souls is the kind of
serious (but not boring), mature (but not stuffy) rock 'n' roll that sneaks
up on you and somehow never manages to leave your CD player. That is, if it
ever makes it there in the first place.
Originally a side project of Grifter David Shouse -- he released one largely
solo record on Darla in '96 -- Those Bastard Souls have become a
full-blown band, a kind of indier-than-indie-rock supergroup, with members
formerly of the Dambuilders, Shudder to Think, the Rentals, Red Red Meat and
Jeff Buckley's band. It's quite a pedigree, and indeed the playing is
terrific from all involved. You can hear the musicians coalescing into a
real band -- there are no show-offs and no wallflowers. (That said, Joan
Wasser's violin work is, especially on the title track, spectacular.)
Debt and Departure is weirdly introspective. Even the rockers are
turned slightly inward. Shouse's songs all seem to come from a weird place
where Radiohead-style angst rock intersects with Dylanesque folk. It's a
weird mix, really -- few of the songs catch in your mind after the first
listen or two, but eventually, slowly, they become essential. Shouse has
also perfected a kind of slow burn, especially on album opener "The Last
of which create an atmosphere like a freezing cold, abandoned city street
that ends up flooded with people.
Despite their worth, it doesn't seem likely that Those Bastard Souls will
find much of an audience -- they are genreless in a market full of niches.
There's no flash to Shouse's intense, honest songs, just care and craft.
Debt and Departure doesn't really have much of a hook other than that
it's a very, very good rock 'n' roll record. Five or 10 years from now that will likely once again be enough.