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16 Horsepower


(Alternative Tentacles; US: 10 Jan 2006; UK: 14 Nov 2005)

The infomercial you see at 3am sounds like this: “Do you have recurring thoughts of damnation and fire? Do you have a deep faith but a jagged streak of black in your heart? Do you hate John Fogerty? Or do you only pretend to? Do you wish Ian Curtis had sounded more like Nick Cave? If so, have we got the record for you!”

At which point you’re dazedly reaching for the phone and your credit card. You’ve been drinking with one hand and tearing out pages of the Bible with the other, and you’re in the mood for an album in which the lightest musical moment comes at the introduction to a song called “Black Lung”. The blue flicker keeps going and the rest is black.

Things get weird when the narrator lowers his voice to a growl: “You work hard, you’re keeping a little something aside, and you wear your one suit each Sunday. But the more you chase the Lord, the more the Devil’s chasing you. Don’t believe in him? Edwards describes him as ‘the one who sits up close beside you / And when he’s there you are alone’.”

For heaven’s sake, you wonder, who the hell is this band? Some old group called 16 Horsepower that broke up a while ago (and David Eugene Edwards turned into Wovenhand), probably because they got sick of seeing the word g0th1c written in every article about them? This re-issued live album, Hoarse, shows the band giving and receiving a storm of brimstone, calling out while confessing. The band mixes guitars, banjo, and a squeezebox rumors has it is a bandoneon. These songs are the music performed by the tattoo on Parker’s back.

By now you’ve lost sight of your screen. The narrator’s voice is replaced by the disc’s best song, “Black Soul Choir”. Edwards sings:

“Oh, I will forgive your wrongs—

Yes, I am able.

And for my own I feel great shame;

I would offer up a brick to the back of your head, boy,

If I were Cain”.

It’s getting a little too intense for you, and you’re suddenly sober. You can’t tell which side of the spiritual war sent this band to torment you, and when Edwards threatens you (“This shack you built is on my land / And it’s coming down brick by brick”), you don’t know if he’s an avenging angel or if he’s blackness. That cover of “Bad Moon Risin’” scares you, but you know how damn good it is.

Maybe that’s the power of it. It reminds you that you know you don’t mean to harm anyone, but someplace deep inside, you’re capable of anything. You’ll never know, you’ll never be pushed far enough. You might not have that opportunity, or you might not have that passion. Edwards sounds like a man who tears his hair every day, alone in the Southern woods, and grins when you show up. Like a man who’s yearning to be a matyr, and ready to kill for the chance.

When your delerium passes, the infomercial sounds like this: “We might not have 16 Horsepower here any more, but we’ve got their music to haunt us. And Hoarse isn’t just disembodied ghost, it’s a sound a body can relate to. Edwards has a rare vision with the execution to match. You already get eight original songs, but call now and we’ll throw in three great covers (Joy Division and Gun Club fans take note). Where else can you get challenged, exposed, and released with just one little disc. So place your order now—these are bound to go fast as hell.”


Justin Cober-Lake lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, kids, and dog. His writing has appeared in a number of places, including Stylus, Paste, Chord, and Trouser Press. His work made its first appearance on CD with the release of Todd Goodman's first symphony, Fields of Crimson. He's recently co-founded the literary fly-fishing journal Rise Forms.

Tagged as: 16 horsepower
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