After releasing their recent EP, 2005’s In the Heart of Mankind, Deadman, better known to friend and family as Texas natives Steven and Sherilyn Collins, have returned with an album that will challenge some listeners but leave others rooting for their old country duet compilations. The tender and graceful opener “When the Music’s Not Forgotten” ensures you that this song will not be forgotten. Not for a long, long time. Whether you think it ranks up there with Gram and Emmylou or Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary, this gentle, hypnotic tune has a great yet sparse production and feel that brings to mind a Daniel Lanois-produced tune. A lithe keyboard accent starts it off but it’s basically the honest harmonies of the Collins two which make it soar. The lyrical content is also potent, speaking of how the discipline is seen as a commercial accessory more than a precious craft. The fact it was also penned after the passing of June Carter Cash only gives it greater credence. Perhaps Emmylou Harris’ recent work is the best comparison stylistically. And while it’s a fantastic opener, it’s not the blueprint that Deadman subscribe to. Not by a long shot.
“Won’t Be Long” is such an example, as it comes off a tad soulful with some R&B feel. Steven Collins sings the song as if trying to pass on a top-secret message in a telephone booth, bringing to mind the Twilight Singers’ Greg Dulli. Airy and at times atmospheric, the song scampers along without a care in the world as he speaks the lyrics as much as he does sing them. “Brother John” returns to the opener’s glory with the sweet, gorgeous duets and the laidback groove that glides the song along. “Well it’s hard to believe, but that’s how it goes / One year just bleeds into five”, they sing effortlessly prior to a harmonica chiming into the bridge. However, they venture into a darker, dreary frame of mind during “Werewolves” that sounds like Deadman trying to cover a possible collaboration between Eric Andersen and the Doors. Spacey at times and not that promising, the song gets going somewhat in the chorus.
The centerpiece (if there can be in a 10-song record) has to be “The Monsters of Goya”, another deliberately paced gem devoid of any padding or polish. What you have is a great song, greater performances, and fantastic musicianship all around, resembling the likes of Knife in the Water to some extent. Drummer John Scully sets the tone with the other players subtly adding color to the track. The closing refrain builds the song up but not to the point of overkill. Would’ve been perfect to close Ryan Adams’ Gold, but oh well… And by now the listener will probably come to realize that the country or Americana ebb will now morph into a darker, eerie flow with “Sad Ole’ Geronimo” that has some edgy guitar riffs initially prior to the chorus, always brimming under the surface but never breaking through the hazy, psychedelic fog. The lullaby ballad-ish “Slow Dance” is just that as this time Sherilyn Collins takes the wheel, whispering her lyrics in the vein of Grey DeLisle with a childlike innocence.
Deadman use every ounce of their talents to make this seem so easy, especially on the solid alt.country-oriented “Absalom! Absalom!”, which ends up winding itself around a carefully created bluesy sway. If you think that puts you to sleep, try the ethereal, hymnal “Love Will Guide You Home” that is basically the icing or perfect dessert on this album.
// Notes from the Road
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