BY MARY LEARY
Dead Confederate’s last album muscled its way past several other contenders onto my Best of 2010 list. Front man Hardy Morris is such an effective balladeer, I have to admit that I watched the acoustic guitar-based “Run From the Gun” video a few more times than may be normal. Mixing a vulnerable cousin to Kurt Cobain’s vocal timbre with kick-ass rock n’ roll is a sort of Nirvanic reincarnation – at its fiercest, with some of Sonic Youth’s well-placed noize adding unexpected sizzle.
I’m among those for whom a new DC album is news, even if I’m not rabid enough to have kept up with the tracks the band’s been releasing to subscribers. For anyone contemplating throwing down the cash for In The Marrow, I guess the question’s whether it’s as good as/better than DC’s work to date.
Morris sounds more like Cobain than ever; his delivery a bit smoothed by vocal practice and/or production for this recording. The band’s still delivering the fist-pounding Southern grunge that packs bodies in for reliable live catharsis. The compositional thing? The title track’s killer – albeit, again, in a nuevo Nirvana way. In performance, it could be life-changing for anyone who’s new to moody trudges through mud that are driven and punctuated by really grand dual guitar work, with the occasional in-your-face explosion. But the band’s pretty much stuck in nuevo Nirvanaland. Long track follows plodding track, with predictable chord changes and formats. There’s a quiet ballad; “Winter Waters,” which might be more effective after the title song. It’s not as lovely as “Run From The Gun,” the soft/ragged qualities of which put it next to several Exile on Main Street moments. But “Bleed-Through” could have gotten close to that pathos with such a presentation – as-is, the life’s wrung out of the song by a long, plodding…
Should DC even try to punch its way out of this space? About 40 minutes of long-ish, relatively repetitive tracks doesn’t telegraph interest in change. DC’s members have been immersed in various projects (Morris with Diamond Rugs and a solo album; guitarist Walker Howie with Tia Madre; keyboardist John Watkins with the Fixed Focus; bassist Brantley Senn with the band’s Spiderbomb label). Any restless creativity is probably being channeled elsewhere.
The results of attempting to grow beyond DC’s current niche could be catastrophic, at least in terms of maintaining its fan base; any bills the members are charged with paying, etc. But if DC can find a way to merge its grungy post-punk attack with fresher forms of expression – especially if it’s also visited by great new songs – it could morph into one of the best rock bands in America. Maybe it should take a step back to Cobain’s inspiration – how about touring with Frank Black and/or the Pixies?
DOWNLOAD: “Dead Poetry,” “Vacations,” “In The Marrow”