The soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? was a huge hit, and Mumford & Sons just won the Grammy for Best New Album. Even casual music fans own at least one of these discs. So why, after eight albums, are The Black Twig Pickers not as popular? The answer is simple: most people haven’t heard of them.
This disc is a bridge between that music (that of the mainstream) and this music (that of the underground): authentic and intelligent, with an upbeat, contagious energy. These fourteen tracks burst with color: the lush timbres of banjo, boot stomp, mouth harp, washboard, hambone and fiddle. It’s aimed at the feet rather than the heart, and it’s no surprise to learn that the band itself has started dancing on stage for the first time in its illustrious history.
Rough Carpenters was recorded at the same time as Whompyjawed, but its form is quite different. That LP served up two extended pieces on two sides of vinyl, delving into repetition, extension and trance. The new album is packed with bite-sized morsels, none topping the five-minute mark. The first five tracks clock in at under three minutes each, launching the listener deep into the album before they can blink. The best of these is the title track, whose chorus makes a happy earworm.
While Rough Carpenters contains music new and old, the reworking of traditional material makes even the old seem new; and while a few singalong tracks are included, the majority of the tracks are instrumental. This choice was a good one. A human voice is not needed: the voice of the American South is already apparent. A boisterous yelp here and there lets the listener know that the band is having fun. Highlights include the restrained elegance of “Blind Man’s Lament”, the deeper tones of “Elkhorn Ridge” and the spontaneous joy of “Sift the Meal and Save the Bran”. These lively tracks beg to be heard live; the tour can’t start soon enough. (Richard Allen)