Freakwater : Scheherazade

coverby Sean Jewell ::

The history of mountain punk is simple. Lonesome tales of bygone times and persistent hurt accompanied by banjo, dulcimer, and other stringed demons was played by women in the Appalachian back country, colloquially known as Freakwater. Eventually the haunting sound slithered from the holler into a Pentecostal church two young Kentucky women attended. Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin, the two evangelists of the Freakwater gospels, fearlessly took up the serpents and proclaimed in spooky harmony: “In Freakwater’s name shall our music cast out devils; listeners shall speak with new tongues. They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.”

Thus began mountain punk. The year was 1985, and sinners who may not have understood the exemplary teachings, their constant intercession through song, their wondrous work while refusing lives of material attachment, now surely will.

Like the mythical Scheherazade, the spinner of tales for 1,001 and one nights, who intervened to save the life of her sister, spoiling the plan of a misogynist king to marry a virgin each night and murder each the next day by distracting him with stories that ended in clilffhangers, the band has taken their time weaving themselves into the fabric of our listening habits. Like that undeserving King Shahryar we settled in, found we didn’t mind waiting too much, and fell in love along the way.

Modernity has brought with it the joy of electric guitar, and there’s plenty of it to accompany the chugging acoustic guitars and fiddle. Banjos pluck softly to unorthodox harmonies. Live, Freakwater can turn a huge venue into an intimate event. The lead off, “What The People Want” conjures visions of wood floors and abandoned homes with spooky lyrics like “Whose baby are you?” The album’s most approachable single, “The Asp and the Albatross,” is front porch electric.”Bolshevik and Bollweevill” is accompanied but has an a capella feel. Still, Freakwater is at its freakiest here on electric cookers like “Down Will Come Baby,” an exhibition of mountain punk power that spooks itself off into a symphony of electric strings. These are electric fables (“Velveteen Matador”). Weirdo nursery rhymes (“Skinny Knee Bone”). Ghostly country (“Falls Of Sleep”).

From the press release:

Scheherazade was recorded and mixed at LaLa Land Studio in Louisville, Kentucky with Kevin Ratterman, My Morning Jacket‘s longtime engineer. It was the first time in the band’s long career that they recorded an album outside of Chicago. The slower pace of Louisville – what Janet calls “the Kentucky crawl” – and an extended cast of talented local musicians proved perfect elements for developing their new songs. Freakwater‘s amazing collaborators on Scheherazade include Ellkington (Tweedy, Horse’s Ha, Eleventh Dream Day) on pedal steel and mandola, Evan Patterson (Young Widows, Jaye Jayle) on electric guitars, Warren Ellis (Dirty Three, Nick Cave) on fiddle and alto flute, Sarah Balliet (Murder By Death) on cello, and Morgan Geer (Drunken Prayer) on electric guitar

Scheherazade is out now on Bloodshot Records. Freakwater is on tour  now and plays Tractor Tavern in Seattle on February 27th. Drunken Prayer supports!