Listening to the debut disc by the Deslondes is like hearing the ghosts of country music past come back to life. The Louisiana quintet proudly declares its influences through textual and melodic references. One hears echoes of Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie’s early recordings. The production itself is purposely high and thin, like the sound of old 78 RPM records, evoking another time and place.
According to their website and one of their songs, these guys have done their share of rambling. However, their authenticity is irrelevant; it’s the music that matters. The Deslondes are stuck in the past rather than rooted in it. That fact makes them fierce. They don’t compromise and make slick country rock; the band just does its thing: they pluck, twang, and harmonize in an old-fashioned way.
The Deslondes perform in a variety of traditional styles, such as country blues, Cajun two-step, cowboy tunes, and others from bygone genres. The arrangements are sparse and somewhat primitive. This fits the simple messages they sing. High concept titles like “Less Honkin’ More Tonkin’ Blues” and “Fought the Blues and Won” say it all, while more basic names like “Simple and True”, “The Real Deal”, and “Low Down Soul” simply reveal the rudimentary concerns of life’s essential and existential conditions. We’re here, and doing the best we can.
Consider the spiritual “Heavenly Home”. The song’s narrator might believe in a higher spirit, but he “saw the light and walked away.” He knows “there’s always been children who died from hunger / there’ll always be men who’ll kill for greed.” God’s will is enigmatic, and if life’s circumstances are not the result of some heavenly plan, God “must be humble”. Life is hard. Suffering doesn’t make one nobler—just sore.
Time itself is a problem. “Time worth having has been long time gone”, begins what the Western movie theme-like melody, “Time to Believe In”. The narrator knows despite life’s illusions, we have little control over our fate. We are stuck in a prison of time, and every day we lose another day.
Love brings more pain than sweetness, to ourselves and the objects of our affection. At least, that’s the lesson of the shuffle, “Louise”. We do what we must do, according to the singer, to occupy ourselves on “long and lonely nights”. But we are bound to move on and remain unsatisfied. Such is life, and love is not the answer to our needs.
The quintet remains hopeful. The misery expressed on different songs is lightened by an awareness of the absurdness of it all. The last and longest song, “Out on the Rise”, suggests an appreciation of being able to start out new every day. This cautious optimism is bittersweet and hard-earned. Every town and every road to the next place presents a new opportunity; one just has to take it slow and easy.
Or, as the Deslondes declare on the first song, the band “Fought the Blues and Won”. Life is a struggle, but one can prevail, even if only temporarily. Woody and Hank may have died before their times, but the Deslondes dwell in the present moment, offering raw solace for those who, in the face of the modern world, want to look back.