Recorded during their 2001 tour and presented as a typical, complete live show from the period, Live March 2001 stands as the definitive intro/document/testament to 16 Horsepower. Though the band members — especially singer/writer David Eugene Edwards — soldier on in projects like Woven Hand and Lithium, it was in this band that greatness was achieved. Live records don’t often stand as band’s best, but this one may.
This is an eighteen-song, two-CD set, a smoldering cauldron of murder ballads, southern-gothic story-songs of regret and personal, warped visions and prophecies, personal hermetic battles made public. Relying on banjo and accordion as often as guitar, the band deliver more in the silences of their composition than some bands do when cranked all the way up.
Fan favorites like “Harm’s Way” and “Strawfoot” are given somber but passionate readings. Laconic slide guitar makes eerie tracks like “I Seen What I Saw” and “Haw” even more creepy. An odd ambient break during the cover of the traditional ballad “Wayfaring Stranger” is truly chilling, and a haunting peak on a record full of ghosts; a Native-American-tinged drone turns “Silver Saddle” into a dirge and history lesson at once. Piano-driven “Burning Bush” and “The Partisan” are given epic treatment, and rockers like “Dead Run” and “Splinters” make their own sense amid this stew of sullen prayers.
"American gothic" is a silly term for a genre of music, but it fits as often as it doesn’t. With this band, whose songs are like mini-grotesques that could have easily fallen from Faulkner’s pen, any label is bound to leave a boundary or two that they have already leaped. If Live March 2001 is to be the coda, they went out with a document that will be sending kids who like to write out to buy their first guitars for years to come.