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Woven Hand - Ten Stones CD (album) cover


Woven Hand


Prog Folk

3.57 | 21 ratings

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4 stars Religion is a strange thing; many resist, youth rebel against, and millions deny. Yet the vast majority of the world claim one religion or another as their own. We mark time with a calendar that separates human epochs based on the birth of a religious figure that many reject. Long-formed traditions in nearly every culture have their roots in religious beliefs or superstitions, even those where the origins have been clouded by history. Wars are fought, buildings blown apart, nations and peoples laid bare; lives are defined and sometimes made forfeit all in the name of religion. Words and names mouthed as holy by some are uttered as profane by others, and both hate the other as a result. We live on a planet full of men where it is written both were formed by an all-knowing and infinitely powerful creator, yet disease and poverty and despair abound. Holy books are filled with tales of punishment, retribution, trials and a coming apocalyptic climax, and sometimes include incidents of the most horrific depravity that should cause rational-thinking people to recoil in disgust and fear. And in the end all religion is based on an expression of faith; though not always on hope, which the ancient Greeks (perhaps wisely) considered the most powerful of evils loosed from Pandora’s Box. Nietzsche declared hope to be the cruelest of emotions because of its power to prolong the miseries which of necessity must be present for hope to have any authority.

It’s all a very messy business.

David Eugene Edwards recognizes the interlaced contradictions and darkness that blanket this place we call home, and doesn’t shy away from the view. Wovenhand music has always chronicled the journey of The Struggle, both with poignancy and often wanton despair, this latest album more so than any prior. And while hope may offer little comfort or relief, neither does despair engulf the listener. It is what it is, nothing more, and certainly nothing less. Weak and timid souls need not apply.

The album explodes with torrid guitar blasts and a fervent drumbeat on “The Beautiful Axe” (the Blood Axe?), another lyrically disjointed yet poetic gaze to heaven written by Edwards; piously declaring “To the humble He has given grace, from the proud He hides his face” and following with an almost gleefully fatalistic chant of “Joy has come in the mind that I see - beautiful the axe that flies at me”. Wovenhand seem to have abandoned any pretense of docile Americana folk as Edwards channels generations of whiskey-breathed and grizzled tent-revival evangelists who stoked the fear-inspired Christian principles that evolved across Middle America between the ages of post-Civil War carpetbaggers and the free-form Chautauqua movements of the early twentieth century. Nine or ten more like this one and Southern blood would boil in righteous indignation and rail against a world of depravity and evil intention.

But a basic tenant of those same homespun Ameri-Christian principles is humility, finding its genesis in biblical proverbs such as “every proud man is an abomination to the Lord; I assure you that he will not go unpunished”; and “if you have foolishly been proud or presumptuous, put your hand on your mouth; for the stirring of milk brings forth curds, and the stirring of anger brings forth blood”. “Horsetail” expands on this theme amid a jangling, almost country guitar riff and the dire warning “if you think you can see it in your hand then you are blind; He brings the whirlwind to scatter your fire - you cannot reach Him, no - not from your tallest spire”. Maxims to live by, courtesy a band of scruffy and tattooed post-grunge rockers.

As with any proper Christian-themed record there must be a rapturous, apocalyptic song, and “Not One Stone” delivers that for this album. Edwards describes the final act in which the chosen one returns to exact vengeance and deliver holy justice on this thing He once created. Everything will be laid waste says the holy book; not one stone will remain atop another:

“On my way down this weary melody ends; the host of heaven descends, down beneath this bleeding ground - behold the lamb”

But Edwards is a red-blooded American at heart, sometimes even more so than he is a wild-eyed rural evangelist, and has a tendency to wander thematically with his music on occasion. Some of his best work has been odd covers and musical landscapes of dusty roads and dry fields cracked with the rise of too many hot suns. He is guilty of both indulgences on this record, starting with the undecipherable yet maudlin lyrics, bleak piano and rambling acoustic guitar on “Cohawkin Road” and “Iron Feather”. While I’ve no idea what these songs are about the return of piano, strings and other acoustic instruments recall his earliest work with both 16 Horsepower and this band, and are in the finest Americana tradition of Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’, Mellencamp's ‘Rough Harvest’ and most everything Tom Waits ever recorded. Best listened to driving down a desolate country road in a rusted-out Oldsmobile on a dry autumn evening.

That Appalachian country swagger and guttural Jim Carroll-like worldliness seen on earlier Wovenhand albums rear their head again in the form of a weekend night wild ride on “White Knuckle Grip”, a sauntering good-old-boy urban cowboy musical cruise along dark and foreboding streets of trouble and whiskey philosophy. Strange change of pace for this album, but probably not so strange considering the juxtaposition of faith and fallow lives this band so comfortably embraces.

Like I said before, Edwards’ other penchant is toward seminal cover tunes, including the Bill Withers R&B classic “Ain’t no Sunshine” on the band’s debut album; and John Fogerty’s “Bad Moon Rising” and Joy Division’s “Day of the Lords” with 16 Horsepower. On this album Edwards adopts the late A.C. Jobim’s bossa nova standard “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars” (“Corcovado”) as his own, a song that has been recorded by everyone from Miles Davis to Cliff Richard to Queen Latifah. Under Edwards’ supervision the tune takes on the semblance of a morbid, almost fatalistic existential lament. Possibly one of the weirdest and most disturbing jazz covers ever recorded.

The band reflect their mountain Western roots with the rollicking, almost post-punk wailing tribute to the old Kiowa Native American chief Kicking Bird on the song of the same name. An interesting figure to honor, as Kicking Bird was widely derided by follow Indians back in the 19th century as he became one of the first to treaty with the U.S. government, only to see the treaty broken and his people herded into Oklahoma reservations far from their ancestral mountain home; and himself dead at the suspected hand of a saboteur from his own race.

More of the acoustic punk-meets-bluegrass dirge that landed 16 Horsepower the label of ‘goth-country’ on the angry and stark “Kingdom of Ice”, another heavily acoustic song with sarcastic overtones on the false sense of power and control over nature and self-determination exhibited by modern man.

The band brings things home to roost with the peaceful, eagle-soaring-across-a-mountain-range “His Loyal Love”, written by band bassist Pascal Humbert and sounding all the world like a nature hymn sung in an open meadow. A peaceful ending to a raucous and otherwise disturbing album. The band adds a short flourish with an instrumental soundscape to close things out.

As an American who has lived through the high point of our landing men on the Moon and finding a cure for polio, to the current state of watching a once great nation possibly wheezing out its death throes caused by decades of excess, hubris and arrogance; I sometimes feel that there is little tolerance or interest in exploring and reflecting on the generations of experiences that brought us to where we are. But it is important to do so nonetheless, and also important (as is the case with any peoples) to understand the elements that make up one’s whole. Wovenhand have moved beyond the pale of traditional Americana music to a new place that is both frightening and morbidly fascinating: one can’t help but be drawn in and repulsed at the same time. Anything that can cause such powerful emotions must be considered an experience worth having, for the enlightenment it brings if nothing else. This is not a musical masterpiece, but it is an essential tapestry of a conflicted and complex people who continue to grow, thrive and survive despite all odds (and possibly even despite natural order and justice). Like I said, it is what it is, so enjoy the show.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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