It's artists like Christian Williams that have made it so I can no longer truthfully say 'I hate country.' Previously I wouldn't have touched anything close to country music with a ten-foot pole, but my hardened heart has found a place for the "classic country" sound. I blame Walk the Line.
Williams' latest release, Built With Bones, is a "gothic country" album filled with earnest songs that tell stories of love, death, temptation, murder, execution, and the end of the world.
The first track, "You Ain't Exempt", sets the tone of the record. A battered baritone, an acoustic guitar, and a story from Death's point of view reveal Williams' knack for clever lyrics ("I'm the end of the line / the caboose of your life...") and engaging stories.
Each track on the record tells a new story, with Williams using everything from saloon-style piano, six-stringed banjo, and an autoharp to transport the listener to the Old West without ever becoming hokey.
"Red" is the most memorable track on the album, telling a tale of adultery that leads to murder. The banjo creates an eerie and uneasy feeling which is further added to by Williams doubling himself in whisper with each use of the word "red." If I had been listening to this in the dark I would have had to turn on the light, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.
Another standout is "The Long Drop" which juxtaposes the story of a man's execution with beautiful chord changes that clash with the story that's being told. The song ends with the clap of the trap door swinging open, leading to the narrator's demise at the end of a rope. The effect was as sudden and unsettling as the end of Ambrose Bierce's An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.
Built With Bones is not entirely built on the matter of scary campfire tales; "Never the Widow" tells of a woman's unfaltering devotion and "Something Like Love" could easily be altered into a set of non-traditional wedding vows.
If you've previously sworn off country, this is a good album to get your feet wet with. If nothing else you'll hear a few good stories you haven't before.