Werner Ghost Truck
The band’s name, taken from a William Faulkner short story, suits them perfectly. Close your eyes and slowly repeat the name Barn Burning, Barn Burning. What images do those two words conjure in your mind? In the darkness of my post-midnight imagination, I can see images of smoke against night-time skies, the darkness at the edge of town, rural feuding, shallow graves. The name suggests a Twin Peaks landscape, Truman Capote’s Handcarved Coffins scored by American Music Club.
Werner Ghost Truck is a desolate howl into the void. A raging against lives half lived, crippled by small town ennui. It whispers tales of shackled hopes and broken dreams before unleashing guitar fireworks and heart-wrenching melodic twists. It’s a sharp right hand to the blue-collar romanticism of early Bruce Springsteen. This is not born to run, more born to drift. There are glimpses into a stilted world, a world of empty old age, drug addiction and betrayal. There is an urgency here, a desperation to slip the chains that bind you so tightly. A bloodstained desire to escape the limits of geography, of economy, of imagination.
Despite the lyrical gloom these are uplifting songs. The LP was recorded in a large empty house and you can hear the space, the ghostly reverb in the sound. William is a breezy circling acoustic chord sequence with a riff that is prime Peter Buck, a harmonica and then a lone piano briefly echoes the melody. The lyric is a puzzle, a memory trapped inside an old photo, and the debris of life.
The keyboard playing on the whole collection is a joy. There are two fractured piano pieces that link the LP together, ghostly ambient interludes that revolve like dust in the sunlight. The hushed warming tones and organ washes tether the mix like flags at half-mast. Rubicon builds from a set of suspended organ tones, acoustic guitars and rattling percussion. The instruments interplay beautifully, a soaring lead guitar explodes in short bursts of noise as the high hats trash like heavy rain on a drugstore window.
Long Dark Room is six minutes of pure beauty, the pedal steel guitar unfurling like smoke rings in a backroom bar. It’s a dark night of the soul, a struggle towards dawn, with little more than some vinyl records and a bruised heart for company. Robert Fisher from Willard Grant Conspiracy adds his craggy tones and then a series of AM radio signals are mixed into the sound. Its spectral, haunted, perfect.
This is a record that is frozen in a deep winter malaise. A brooding, dark, dissolving mesh of guitars, insistent drumming and starlight melodies. The sound wraps around you in a dense fog of strident acoustics and warming bass-lines. Anthony Loffredio’s vocal has an ache, an undertone of melancholy that drags you into its murky depths. There are touches of alt.country in the sound but this is much more sinister, grittier, loud and tangled.
Imagine Wilco jamming with the creeping dread of The For Carnation, or Joy Division’s dense alienation re-routed via the open highways of America. Startling, one to cherish.
Tony Heywood (c)
First published in Mercury Moon
Barn Burning Website
Tour Dates July 2007
Providence, RI @ Jake's Bar & Grille
w/Okkervil River (Jagjaguwar Records)
Cambridge, MA @ T.T. the Bear's
w/Jason Isbell (formerly of Drive-By Truckers) and Justin Townes Earle
Saturday, Jul-21st (Anthony Solo)
Providence, RI @ Jake's Bar & Grille
w/a bunch of other bands to celebrate Jake's Anniversary.
Washington, DC @ The Red and The Black
Providence, RI @ The Penalty Box
w/Returnaround, Chris McCoy & the Gospel, Dead End Armory and Rock Paper Rock