BY MIKE SHANLEY
With a lineup that includes two drummers, a handful of guitars (baritone, electric and acoustic varieties) and keyboards, with several friends adding strings and horns, the Builders and the Butchers come off with a lot of brute force. The E chord that opens the album practically yells, “Listen up,” as it hits and slowly decays, giving guitarist Ryan Sollee a chance to step up to the mike. His nasal voice and the band’s attack make Western Medicine sound like a collision of the Decemberists and Crime & the City Solution.
The band took some lyrical inspiration from the works of author Cormac McCarthy, peppering their songs with Southern gothic characters with checkered pasts. The problem is the lyrics come off like sketches we’ve heard numerous times in greater detail, from the Louvin Brothers to Nick Cave to the aforementioned Decemberists.
No less than three songs talk about fires and destruction (two of them in a row). There’s also a metaphorical song about demon alcohol (“Poison Well”) followed by the obligatory song about religious salvation (“Redemption Song”). Worse, most of the songs are built on the same few chords, which diminish the impact of that opening crash since it repeatedly shows up over and over. Sollee also has a tendency to repeat the first verse at the end of the song, when all the thunder has calmed down. It might work better if most of the songs weren’t nearing the five-minute mark by then. When the Builders and the Butchers get rolling, with banjos and mandolins tumbling over guitars, things get exciting. But they sound like they’re trying to create epics without the narrative skills to pull them off.
DOWNLOAD: “Blood Runs Cold,” “The Snow.”