Bruce Piephoff

Slaughterhouse

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It is no secret that North America is full of great folk songwriters, with the well-established big names greatly outnumbered by so-called local artists whose performances within particular regions have garnered them loyal followings of one sort or another. Bruce Piephoff has been recording and performing, mostly out of Greensboro, NC, for several decades. While there was always a standard of quality to his work, his songwriting as well as production expertise just seems to be getting better and better. This may just be his best, a generous and indeed walloping serving of his material. There are 20 songs here, only a few of them less than full-length ditties. The disc's title is just as much North Carolina as many of the other references; after all, this is the state with the pork industry that pollutes river, lake, and ocean alike and the chicken processing plant whose workers were burned alive because the fire exit door was chained shut. "They've Turned out the Light at the End of the Tunnel" would be the song one might reach for when faced with such calamities, and it's one of this songwriter's best, laced with a droll point of view that is a pretty good defense against depression. Piephoff's musicianship, including guitar strumming and harmonica, works perfectly for these songs. He gets excellent backup from players such as Scott Manring on a variety of strings, including National Steel guitar and fiddler Kirk Sutphin. While the first moments of the record evoke Bob Dylan, Piephoff soon goes his own way, effortlessly bringing to mind many roots influences from country and blues manifestations. The light vocal harmonies with singer and keyboardist Claire Holley give some of the songs an unusual appeal. While he sings about many subjects, he reserves the folk artist's right to get downright regional and pretty specific: "When Terry Barry Ran for Mayor" is a real slice of Greensboro life based on the exploits of a local eccentric. While some listeners may assume this means the material is aimed at a limited audience, in reality it means this a songwriter who is really doing his job. Of particular note is the relationship between his voice and his lyrics. He manages a sense of relaxation with the former which is of constant benefit in a genre where some performers simply try too hard. With his lyrics he shifts from the obscure to the clear, from telling to hinting, all with an admirably natural grace.

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