PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Those Poor Bastards: Hellfire Hymns

Juli Thanki

If Hank Williams and Flannery O’Connor ever had a pair of lovechildren who grew up to be obsessed with the Book of Revelations, they might sound something like Those Poor Bastards.


Those Poor Bastards

Hellfire Hymns

Label: Tribulation
US Release Date: 2007-02-22
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

If Hank Williams and Flannery O’Connor ever had a pair of lovechildren who grew up to be obsessed with the Book of Revelations, they might sound something like Those Poor Bastards on their second full length album, Hellfire Hymns. This band makes Gothic Country at its apocalyptic best. If you’re wanting to hear Kenny Chesney soundalikes sing about sexy tractors and honky tonk badonkadonks, you best look someplace else, because singer Lonesome Wyatt and his reclusive bandmate, The Minister, are serving up songs of damnation and misery sung with pentecostal fury. While much of today’s country music -- commercial, independent, or the dreaded alt-country -- features overblown instrumentation and spit-shined vocals that have been ProTooled beyond recognition, Those Poor Bastards are refreshingly minimalist in comparison, using only guitars and banjos to accompany their delightfully depraved songwriting and raw voices. There’s no steel guitar or fiddle, but this music is undeniably country, and more than a little disturbing.

Hellfire Hymns opens with “The Dust Storm", a creepy number featuring distorted guitars that is also the catchiest song of the album. The ominous, banjo-accompanied “John Henry Gonna” transforms the steel-drivin’ folk hero into a boogeyman that lurks in the shadows, waiting to smite the ungodly with his legendary hammer: “If there’s a sin hanging over your head/ John Henry’s gonna crawl right out of that shed/Then will his hammer fall.” I may have slept with the lights on after hearing that one for the first time.

Old Testament-style wrath abounds on Hellfire Hymns, never more so than on the standout track of the album: a Nick Cave-esque version of the classic folk ballad “The Hellbound Train", a didactic account of a barfly who dreams of his eternal damnation. You may find yourself swearing off the booze for good when Lonesome Wyatt sings the horrors of hell: “Your bones will burn in the flames that roar/ You’ll scorch and sizzle from rind to core.” “Family Graveyard” will put you right back in that bottle, though, when whiskey and blood serve as the ingredients of a resurrection song that is reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories at their eeriest. To be honest, with the exception of “The Dust Storm” and “The Hellbound Train", the songs of Hellfire Hymns needed multiple listenings before I began to appreciate and enjoy them. It’s a good record, but it’s not as immediately catchy as some of the other independent country out there. Also, I generally like my country delivered with a smooth, Lefty Frizzell-esque baritone; Lonesome Wyatt’s alternating bouts of droning and screaming took a while for me to get into. Of course, that might be easier for those of you who belonged to the black nail polish set in high school, but for me, it took a brief adjustment period.

While Those Poor Bastards first became well-known after reigning hardcore-country badass Hank Williams III covered their song “Pills I Took” (from their outstanding EP, Country Bullshit) on his 2006 album Straight to Hell and made them his opening act on multiple tours, Hellfire Hymns proves that Those Poor Bastards can stand on their own as pioneers in the fast-growing Gothic Country subgenre. Their earlier records (Country Bullshit and Songs of Desperation) are quality, but Hellfire Hymns is truly a step above all of their previous work, and a must-have for anyone who is tired of the slick Nashville scene and the overproduced androids that populate country radio. Those Poor Bastards seem to be fairly prolific artists as well, releasing The Plague sometime in February 2008; if they continue to improve like they have between Songs of Desperation and Hellfire Hymns, this upcoming record should be amazing. If they come to your town, go see Those Poor Bastards in concert… reveling in one’s misery has never been more enjoyable.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.