Recorded prior to Mellow Gold but released several months after that album turned Beck into an overnight sensation, One Foot in the Grave bolsters his neo-folkie credibility the way the nearly simultaneously released Stereopathetic Soul Manure accentuated his underground noise prankster credentials. One Foot is neatly perched between authentic folk-blues -- it opens with "He's a Mighty Good Leader," a traditional number sometimes credited to Skip James, and he rewrites Rev. Gary Davis' "You Gotta Move" as "Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods" -- and the shambolic, indie anti-folk coming out of the Northwest in the early '90s, a connection underscored by the record's initial release on Calvin Johnson's Olympia, WA-based K Records, and its production by Johnson, who also sings on a couple of cuts. Parts of One Foot in the Grave may be reminiscent of other K acts, particularly the ragged parts, but it's also distinctively Beck in how it blurs lines between the past and present, the traditional and the modern, the sincere and the sarcastic. Certainly, of his three 1994 albums, One Foot errs in favor of the sincere, partially due to those folk-blues covers, but also in its overall hushed feel, its muted acoustic guitars and murmured vocals suggesting an intimacy that the words don't always convey. Much of the album is about mood as much as song, a situation not uncommon to Beck, which is hardly a problem because the ramshackle sound is charming and the songwriting is often excellent, channeling Beck's skewed sensibilities into a traditional setting, particularly on the excellent "Asshole," which is hardly as smirking as its title. It's that delicate, almost accidental, balance of exposed nerves and cutting with that sets One Foot in the Grave apart from Beck's other albums; he'd revisit this sound and sensibility, but never again was he so beguilingly ragged.
One Foot in the Grave Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine