Don Chambers / Don Chambers & GOAT / Goat

Zebulon

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It's a shame Will Oldham already used the title "I See a Darkness," because that phase sounds like it was made to order for Don Chambers. His best songs make something new and compelling out of the Southern gothic archetypes that have dominated alt country since Jay Farrar was checking out old Smithsonian-Folkways albums at the library, and while Chambers isn't gloomy for its own sake, his characters live in a world where nothing is easy and things rarely happen the way you want or expect. Chambers has released a handful of albums on small regional labels, but Zebulon is one of his first to make much of an impression outside of his native Georgia, and it's a fine calling card for his talents both as a writer and a vocalist. Produced in part by Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, Zebulon sometimes sounds like a Deep South variation on Nick Cave or Tom Waits, but Chambers is a good enough songwriter to make those comparisons work to his favor, and while he shares their thematic obsessions, Chambers lyrics have the casual but insistent rhythms of a true Southerner, and there's an easy grace to songs like "Highwater" and "Friar's Lantern" that reveals a humanity and compassion beneath Chambers' ravaged surfaces. Zebulon also benefits from superb instrumental work by Chambers' band GOAT, especially Matt Stoessel's incisive pedal steel and Patrick Hargon's potent lead guitar. Don Chambers tells stories of a fallen world in his songs, but there's enough honesty and human emotion to offer a glimpse of redemptive light, and Zebulon is an evocative, deeply moving album that confirms Chambers' status as one of the best new songwriters in the South.

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