by Lee Adcock
Folk art, by definition, is created outside of the art world. Family symbols, handed-down techniques, words that drift through generations – these things aren’t guided or defined by “-isms”. Or, in the case of music, by current and past “scenes”, trends, or influences. That said, lots of music in the public sphere that we dub “folk” isn’t exactly folk. People who strap on acoustic guitars and sing wistful, pastoral tunes are most likely copping someone we can name (Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, etc). You want a bona fide recent example? Check out A Hawk and a Hacksaw’s ‘You Have Already Gone to the Other World‘ from last year, a staggering collection of traditional songs from Hungary and the Ukraine. Anywho, so you have this dichotomy – pure folk vs. imitators working out formulas commercially recognized as “folk”. What we have here, though, defies both categories. Maybe I’m too young, but I have heard nothing, nothing, nothing like Sliding the Same Way.
David Thomas Broughton has the loveliest voice on record this year. I dare you to find another so distinct, so clear and unworldly, so out-of-time. That strikes me the most – he doesn’t belong, not among the mutterers and growlers and lo-fi screamers. The angelic Juice Ensemble weaves like lace around him – much more than syrupy duet partners, their voices spiral around melodies, drip like slow rains and stretch like sun rays across a quiet church (especially on The Promise). They can tick like a clock and whistle like winds over barren fields (The Assurance). This is more than mere texture – the Juice set scenes.
Like true folk songs – and I’m thinking here about old American blues songs, of paeans of woe, of working all day in the field and of staring the devil in the face – dark centers lie underneath the clear surface. The LP opens with In Service, a elegant ballad stitched with the Juice’s moans about the ways a man might be compelled to kill others: as a soldier, as a hangman, and as a reckless drunk. This is no light picnic. In The Assurance, the Juice mirror the passing of time, the seconds that slip by as you stare at a clock face, emphasizing the chronological paradox behind David’s beguiling refrain – “lived with my mother / until I died as a child”.
It’s that mystery that lifts Sliding the Same Way above most songwriting crooners. No doubt, A Man To Call My Own glides gracefully, like a cool river under your feet – but both David and the Juice sing “I’ll wait a lonely lifetime / to find a man to call my own”, and you wonder: is this a love that transcends gender? Does it matter who’s desire that is? The very notion sounds lovely, but it’s even lovelier when delivered so gently, so achingly. Achingly, I say – for that’s the other wondrous thing. When David laments, ‘tis a lament not just of his own follies, but of many, many men, of lifetimes and eras, and yet everything rings so close, resounds so clear. Yorkshire Fog seems like a springtime lilt, and “I’m sodden from the dew” might seem like a captured childhood memory – but the verses hint of wartime service, and the Juice chug-a-chugs like a steam engine racing toward the city. And never, ever does David come off as a whiner – the wonderful broken pride of Unshaven Boozer shines with such sincerity, you can see the poor fellow before your eyes. Thanks to the Juice, you can even hear the pub around you, the hiss of beer pouring into the tap, the voices of other patrons. And then there’s a curious diversion – David swings Been A While, a totally a cappella feature with slick beat boxing, with much sauce and sass. It’s only two minutes, and blends in seamlessly.
Is Sliding the Same Way a folk album? It’s definitely not postmodern – when David confesses of killing a man with a broken glass, you can hear his voice tremble. I said before, and I’ll say it again – he doesn’t belong in this time, where buzz bands cram sounds and beats into their records and process them into shiny, spotless products. David and the Juice offer only themselves, and vistas into the world as it is, as it always was. It’s a great, wide world that many tender young artists will never know, walled in as they are by their buzzing social networks and their record collections. But the way that David brings the world to us, the way the Juice color in the details – surely this is art.
Sliding The Same Way is out now. Buy it from ‘Song, By Toad’ Records here.