Stupid and Smart
The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band is stupid. First, they are not damn big. The group consists of only three members: the uncultivated acoustic guitarist and singer Peyton, his blustery wife Breezy on washboard and vocals, and drummer and bucket player Bug Tussell, oops, I mean Ben Bussell. Heck, Christian names don’t matter so much with these hicks; after all, they put a curse word in their moniker. Secondly, despite their continuous touring and somewhat prolific album releases (the new one is disc number five), the group is far from famous (re: another meaning of “big”). Third, judging by the content of their rollicking rural songs, they would not mind being called stupid, providing it was said with respect and a smile.
Being dumb is a rebellion against city sophistication. It’s a clarion call to descend into the mud and morass of country life where being smart has nothing to do with intelligence. The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band manifests this in two complimentary ways. They perform with wild abandon. The Reverend gives the strings a workout by playing hard and fast, making noises that squeak and squawk while maintaining a pounding rhythmic tempo. Imagine a steam train barreling down the tracks and running over Nell before Dudley Do-Right could save her. That’s the sound he and the other two performers make on such songs as the locomotive based “Let’s Jump a Train”. Peyton beckons the listener to take the risk, which is the other method he uses to show he’s senseless. His lyrics are purposely reckless. As Mary Gauthier has marvelously noted on her “The Last of the Hobo Kings”:
“Boxcars have been sealed for years
And trespassers do time
Railroad yards are razor wired
And hoboing’s a crime”
In other words, jumping a train is a bad idea. The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band injudiciously urges people to engage in irresponsible acts. But you know, they ain’t so brainless. They sing metaphorically. Who doesn’t want to imagine riding the rails like back in the day? It’s a protest against the uniformity of modern transport and the mind-numbing nature of travel in these days of interstate highways and byways, commercial flight, and Amtrak mediocrity.
That’s why the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band proclaims that they want to “Raise a Little Hell” and “Scream at the Night”. They’re fightin’ mad about the commoditization of art and pleasure, where “the pop charts are pop tarts with empty songs with no hearts”. They instinctually shout “Hell Naw” at a world that denies them authentic experience. They know the best things in life are simple things such as “Pot Roast and Kisses”. Hell, just listening to the Reverend singing about food and love gets you hungry for both. That’s hungry multiplied by a zillion.
The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band hail from Indiana, but these Hoosiers recapture the Delta country blues of the American South. Now I will leave it to the good folks at the Oxford American to musically define where the South begins, but I have not heard these sounds in the farms of the Midwest. The “Dirt” they sing about isn’t rich black loam, but hardscrabble clay.
That said, So Delicious! is mighty tasty. Just like one person’s collards and ham is another’s gourmet soul food, this music may be simple, but it is mighty satisfying. In the processed world in which we live, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band reminds us of what has been lost and shows us how to git it back.
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