Dying Surfer Meets His Maker

All Them Witches

(Digital Download - New West #NW 6444AD)

Review by Thom Jurek

"Inspired" and "heavy" are words that come to mind when taking in Dying Surfer Meets His Maker, the third long-player from Nashville's All Them Witches. In recent years, All Them Witches' live rep has become nearly mythical as they combine mercurial yet sensitive singer/songwriter lyricism, tripped-out post-psych hard blues, and stoner rock metallic thud. The album was recorded in an isolated cabin on a Pigeon Forge, Tennessee hilltop overlooking Dollywood far below. It was cut mostly live from the floor by Mikey Allred, with overdubs added later. One song opens onto another as it unfolds into a labyrinthine, head-expanding ride. On "Call Me Star," gently fingerpicked acoustic guitars are adorned by a weeping slide; snares and tom-toms frame bassist Charles Michael Parks, Jr.'s lonesome, from-the-void vocal, which recalls prime Robert Plant. The restraint gives way to a spacy rockist vibe, but never loses its rootsy feel. A basic one-chord electric guitar vamp introduces the massive "El Centro." It quickly gives way to a massive blown-out bassline from Parks. Ben McLeod's wiry fuzz guitars and Robby Staebler's rolling drums add punch and urgency. (Few bands know how to make use of a really good drummer; All Them Witches have that down cold.) Squalling guitars rife with feedback and tense rhythms à la Loop mesh with the heavy, hard, and head-nodding plod of Sleep. Eight minutes feels like half an hour as time and space slip the ropes. By contrast, the cut-time "Dirt Preachers" is a brief wonky 12-bar punk blues with metal guitar vamps. The great Mickey Raphael guests on "This Is Where It Falls Apart," a snail-paced psychedelic blues delivered with tense restraint and colored with dubwise effects. On "Open Passageways," Staebler's declamatory drumming (which recalls the earthiness of Otha Turner's Rising Star Fife & Drum Band with the dark authority of Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks") gradually extends to Allan Van Cleave's melodic old-world violin break before the entire band erects a doomy climatic architecture. "Talisman" commences as Americana fare, but at over six minutes dissolves into a trance inducer of roiling drums and snaky, overdriven guitars and bass. Everything is on stun. Van Cleave's Fender Rhodes is the only thing binding it to the earth. At first, "Blood & Sand/Milk & Endless Waters" sounds like a cyclic return to "This Is Where It Falls Apart," but its fuzzed-out rolling thunder brings in the heaviness of "El Centro" too. The jam comes into its own when layers of fiddle and silvery blues guitar ripple forth before Staebler's fat, grooving drums help rock it to a close. Dying Surfer Meets His Maker showcases All Them Witches in complete control of their songwriting, arranging, producing, and performing. Slow-burning albums that provide this much weight, creativity, surprise, and enduring pleasure are rare.

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