Deadman’s sophomore album, Our Eternal Ghosts, is the second important folk release of the summer and comparable only in genre to the White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan. There’s nothing ambiguous about the relationship between Deadman’s Steven and Sherilyn Collins: They’re married, their wardrobes have no consistent color scheme, and they haven’t, at least to date, knocked out a Von Bondie. And although Get Behind Me Satan will ultimately only be remembered as a folk album in Jack White’s mind, that label is also too broad a stroke for Our Eternal Ghosts. Deadman rips moody, gospel-filled melodies and Southwest imagery straight from the hymnal. The Collinses love that Ray Charles fused gospel and rock, but to say they understate the rock would be an understatement.
See the brilliant opening track “When the Music’s Not Forgotten.” You’ll swear you heard this during the praise and worship portion of a Baptist church service, but there’s something more going on here. First, it’s got one of those great back stories where everything falls into place. It’s a tribute to carrying on the legacy of dead musicians and was written on the day June Carter Cash died and coincidentally recorded on the day Johnny Cash died. Steven Collins’ vocals over muted percussion and steel initiate the concept of prog-agape (pronounced ä-gä p ), expressing a spiritual love for the music that transcends this plane. The Cash family would have been proud, and you need to hear this song.
Mark Howard (Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, U2) returns to produce, and he keeps the album in a tight range. There’s never a moment that’s too righteous or inspirational, and the couple is even allowed to bust out on occasion. On the chorus of “Won’t Be Long,” Steven sounds like Bono when Bono does that head-tilted-back-eyes-closed-this-time-I-really-mean-it thing. The buzz around Deadman’s debut was the feel of the Southwest desert, and we finally get a taste of that on “Werewolves” and “Sad Ole’ Geronimo.” The former is evidence that the couple has studied Hitchcock’s suspense-versus-surprise theory, and it raises the intensity by keeping the danger hidden. The latter is full of thumping American Indian beats and a muted, distorted guitar to pull the titular character along.
Critics seem to care a whole lot when bands name drop intellectual authors, even if it begs this unanswerable question: How do you have so much time to read when you’re supposed to be acting like a rock star? But if you recoil at the thought of “Dude, what rhymes with Tolstoy?” being uttered at a jam session, Deadman employs the convention responsibly in “Absalom, Absalom.” There’s nothing pretentious or manufactured about their referencing Faulkner’s book of same title. The Dallas couple incorporates thematic schemes to genuinely express the desire for their region of the country to walk with its head up.
Our Eternal Ghosts is a bold move in a landscape peppered with wannabe genre benders. The South kicks hardest when it unflinchingly goes toe to toe with its own legacy.