Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Vinyl Album of the Day is THE .357 STRING BAND - "Fire & Hail"

Vinyl Album of the Day is THE .357 STRING BAND - "Fire & Hail". Originally released in 2008 on CD, "Fire & Hail" was the 2nd album from this Wisconsin group who were one of the most talented and most important bands in the Roots, Underground Country/Bluegrass scene. The group formed in 2004 and featured four guys who all had ties to Punk, Hardcore and Heavy Metal, but had taken to playing a rousing take on Bluegrass filtered through those other influences, and in doing so created what they liked to call "Streetgrass". They released their debut album "Ghost Town" in 2006. Its a great album that features a number of killer jams including several that are still performed regularly in the live set of former member Jayke Orvis, such as "Shot Down" and "Raise The Moon". "Raise The Moon" was also later recorded by THE GODDAMN GALLOWS, after Orvis became a member, on their record "7 Devils".

Two more years of playing together coupled with near constant touring led to their magnum opus, 2008's "Fire & Hail". It was everything great about "Ghost Town", taken even further. The musicianship of the individual players is even more skillfull, their songwriting abilities had grown exponentially, and as a group their were even tighter as their chemistry had gelled even further do to all the time on the road. Sadly "Fire & Hail" would be the last album to feature the original line up, as some internal conflict led to Jayke Orvis's exit from the group in June 2009. The group would bring in Billy Cook to fill the void, and this version of the group would record and release the final .357 String Band album, "Lightning From The North", in 2010. The .357 String Band would call it quits the following year, in November 2011. Despite the break up, their legacy lives on in the form of the 3 excellent albums they made, the profound influence on the Roots scene and countless other bands, and also in music created since the break up by the individual members. Jayke Orvis has gone on to record 2 stellar albums, 2010's "Its All Been Said" & 2013's "Bless This Mess" with his "Broken Band". Joesph Huber has released 2 solo records that are also killer, those include 2010's "Bury Me Where I Fall" & 2012's "Tongues of Fire". Derek Dunn has also continued on as a solo artist, and has recorded an EP titled "Poisonous Serpents" but I dont know if its been released yet or not, and I really dont know what Bassist Rick Ness is up to these days. 
Another thing that helps to keep the legacy and memory of this amazing band alive is this beautiful vinyl reissue of "Fire and Hail". This LP was self released by the band in the Fall of 2012, with only 500 copies pressed on red and white vinyl. It was remastered and remixed specifically for this vinyl release and it sounds better than ever. There is an astounding clarity and attention to detail, but doesnt sink to antiseptic levels of polish or anything. Andy Gibson's production shines as perhaps never before and it has that wonderful analog warmth that you just cant get with a CD or MP3.

Side A opens with "Little Black Train of Death", a blazing Bluegrass jam that shows the boys in top form from the jump. The song actually begins and ends with old samples of "Death's Little Black Train" by Reverend J. M. Gates. Its a great start to the album and it just gets better from there. Next up is the title track "Fire & Hail", another barn burner that shows just how great of pickers these guys were, and how great of songwriters they had become by this point. "One More Round" follows and is a classic drinking jam, and is a bit more mid paced compared to the speed blasts of the first couple jams. It's a great, fun song that is memorable as hell with a knockout chorus. The Traditional Bluegrass tune, "Cluck ol' Hen" is up next and is maybe the fastest song on here and that is really saying something. It was songs like this that really set .357 apart from many of the other bands that were Punk guys who attempted to play Bluegrass. .357 had the chops musically to play with anyone, including traditional Bluegrass groups. They could play lightning fast and surgically precise and this song is a perfect example. They perfectly bridged the classic Bluegrass and Old Time String Band sounds with Punk and Metal attitude and a street life mentality. The fire and brimstone speed attack finally slows down when we get to "Black River Blues", a beautiful, melancholy song about infidelity and depression. It's great in its own right, but it also works well as a break in the fast songs and adds a bit of contrast. "Down on a Bender" kicks the speed back up and is another killer ode to drinking and hard living. We close out Side A with the album's lone "cover" song, "Glory, Amen" by THOSE POOR BASTARDS. Its somewhat ironic though as many people believed the song to be a .357 original as it appeared on "Fire & Hail" a couple before THOSE POOR BASTARDS would ever get around to releasing it on their 2010 album "Gospel Haunted", but TPB had been playing the song live for years and it was written by the one and only Lonesome Wyatt.

Side B begins with the ripping Bluegrass of "Holy Water" and quick jam that Orvis really shines on with his amazing Mandolin playing. It also happens to be the shortest song on the album at 2:11. "I'm Gone" continues the fast pace and is yet another awesome song led by Joseph Huber and his Banjo picking. Next, "Hold Me Tight" is the first song written by Jayke Orvis on this album. Its a beautiful and tender duet between Jayke and the always amazing Rachel Brooke. This song was my first introduction to Rachel Brooke, who Ive since become a big fan of, and it also foreshadows some of the great things Jayke would show us on his debut solo album, "It's All Been Said". "Darlene" comes next and is a return to faster territory. Its an awesome "woman done me wrong" type song and creates a nice dynamic with its placement between 2 slower songs. The next song, "Long Put Down That Gospel" is probably my all time favorite .357 STRING BAND song. Its a slower song with great fiddle work from Donnie Heron and probably one of the only Anti-Religion Bluegrass songs ever written. The lyrics are awesome and so well written, only to be backed by killer laid back picking and some sharp harmonies. Now, here there is a bit of weirdness.

The tracklisting on both the back of the album sleeve and the record it's self list the next song as "Two White Horses" followed by "Rollin' Down The Track", however, when you actually listen to the album these songs are flip flopped. "Rollin' Down The Track" plays first and is a great Banjo led jam that is entirely instrumental for the first half or so. It is followed by "Two White Horses" a shorter tune and again has solid Banjo presence. Its a great tune about being on the road, running, rambling, etc. Its got a killer underlying darkness to it as well. Finally, the album closes with "Blackship", written by Orvis, a cool little song that features the whole group singing in harmony on the chorus and also as backing for Jayke who sings the verses himself. There is no instrumentation in the song, only the vocals I mentioned, clapping, and what sounds like a metal pipe striking another metal object, in the background. Jayke has continued to perform "Blackship" as part of his live show with his current backing group, The Broken Band, and they also recorded the song for their newest album 2013's "Bless This Mess". The song closes out that album as well. This brings us to the conclusion of the album, and goddamn what an album it is. It remains the best album .357 ever did, as well as being one of the best and most important albums to the Roots/Underground Country/Bluegrass scene as well. As I mentioned before only 500 of these LP's were pressed and so they may be all gone now, I'm honestly not sure. I got mine from Jayke the first time Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band came through Terre Haute. All 500 copies are hand numbered as well, so that's another cool little thing. My copy is #189. So get "Fire & Hail" one way or another. At the very least get the CD but if you can find a copy, by all means, get it on wax.

PS if you did Jayke Orvis and would like to read more specifically about him, here is a piece I wrote a bit ago http://dodobirdzine.blogspot.com/2013/06/awesome-bands-you-should-know-jayke.html

Andy Sweitzer

No comments:

Post a Comment