The first thing that jumps out at you about Western Medicine, the fourth long-player from Alaska-bred, Portland, Oregon-based fire-and-brimstone buskers turned fire-and-brimstone indie folk rock darlings the Builders and the Butchers, is the cover art, which sports a garish, prog rock-inspired illustration by local artist Lukas Ketner that looks like a comic book rendering of a Hieronymus Bosch painting or an abandoned Broadsword and the Beast-era Jethro Tull, Horslips, or Marillion jacket. It would also look great on the side of a van, but what lies inside the enigmatic packaging is a bit more problematic. Steeped in wild west imagery (the album was inspired by the stories of author Cormac McCarthy) and brimming with the zeal of the hell bound or the just plain old hell-bent, Western Medicine effectively evokes the region where it derives its inspiration, but it lacks the bite of McCarthy's blunt, yet soulful, utilitarian prose. Frontman Ryan Sollee treats each lyric as an incantation, and sometimes, the effect is chilling, as is the case with the propulsive, slow burn opener "Blood Runs Cold," where he declares in a steely, measured tone "I came out on the range/I gave up on the road/And nothing's gonna stop me now/I'm out on the plain/there's blood in the back of my throat," but for the most part, the songs feel like they're stuck in the shadow of better versions of themselves, like 16 Horsepower's "American Wheeze," or Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds "Tupelo." Cuts like "Hellfire Mountain," "Watching the World," and "Dirt in the Ground" are undeniably engaging, even thrilling at times, but so much of the apocalyptic ardor feels forced that the overall effect is more Chicken Little than Revelations.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger