We’ve developed theories to explain the shape of the universe (it looks like a Pringle) and have created cyber-shops that quadruple in value overnight, but there are only two things Cast King doesn’t understand: a two-timing woman and a saw mill man. Leap-frogging “Bubba” but still running a distant second to “Cleon,” Cast King – who issued this debut at age 79 – shakes up my list of “Top Three Old Guy Names.” The beneficiary of some weird folk version of Field of Dreams, Matt Downer was scouring the backwoods of the Old Sand Mountain region of Alabama for reclusive country pickers when legend and Jandekian-style cryptic messages led him to King, a septuagenarian who had vanished after apparently recording a few cuts at Sun Studios in the late ’50s.
Saw Mill Man was recorded in a shack behind King’s property, and other than the drums on the opening track, Downer strums what sounds like an electric Dobro while King takes care of the vocals and acoustic guitar. The rhythm section is proficiently styled after Johnny Cash (King sounds older than Cash did on any of his American recordings), either picked from the bass strings of the acoustic or taken in small clips on the electric. This works best in the clickety-clack of “Long Time Man,” which flows like Cash’s “Tennessee Flat Top Box.”
Perhaps the only contemporary of Cash to be influenced by Ludacris, King is none too shy about divulging the details of his female conquests. Everybody’s crazy about his Peggy, he explains, because “I guess everything’s in the right place” on her. King bags a tall blond with the nature of a grizzly bear on “Low Low Blues” before taking to a little weed to forget about his problem. The track ends with King releasing an unscripted chuckle, no doubt remembering some good ole time spent under the influence. King apparently spent a chunk of his days with a bottle, and appropriately enough the bulk of the album is made up of drinking songs in three-minute slugs. The dull rhythm returns on “Faded Rose” as King finds a face from the past at the bottom of a glass, and we get an unintentional but perfectly timed gummy whistle on “Wino.”
The storylines of the final two tracks channel the spirits of Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie and Cash. “Under the Snow” is a murder ballad about a secret that’s only secure for as long as the temperature remains below freezing, and “Outlaw” is one of those classic stories that begins with a stranger rolling into town, guns ready to draw.
If youth is the cornerstone of punk and punk is about challenging the system, a debut from an elderly recluse might not collapse anything. But it will serve as an intriguing enough statement about a time and style that inspired modern-day folk and a population that will soon be gone.