Posted by: Nick Walters | April 19, 2007

Those Poor Bastards

I said there would be more about these… so here goes.

Songs of Desperation CD cover

 A friend at work introduced me to this band. Think “Gothic Country”, think early Nick Cave, think old-time hellfire sermons, and you’ll have a pretty good idea about where Those Poor Bastards are coming from.

There are two of them: Lonesome Wyatt and the Minister. Wyatt is the singer/songwriter, with a voice so sonorous it makes Ian Curtis sound like a Smurf. Surprisingly, Wyatt appears to be in his early twenties; with a voice like that you’d imagine a raddled, rancid old git, the lovechild of Johnny Cash and Mark E. Smith. Truly an old head on young shoulders.

Where they’re coming from is “real” country music as they see it, full of tales of damnation and doom, with Satan constantly ready to snatch your soul away and a vengeful, cruel God to receive your desperate prayers.  It works on a couple of levels; you can actually imagine these being real songs dredged up from Depression era America, and at the same time, you can laugh at the glorious black humour of it all. The music veers from old-time country “gothic” to fuzzed-out Bad Seeds-style scuzz-rock, and can be quite beautiful at times.

They’ve gone done two albums, Songs of Desperation and Hellfire Hymns, and an introductory Country Bullshit EP, which contains Pills I Took which was covered by Hank Williams III. I’d recommend Songs Of Desperation first because it’s the most accessible, and, in my view, the funniest. They really have hit on something new here – it does sound remarkably like early Nick Cave, but with much more humour. And like Cave there is a strong streak of misogyny throughout their ouvre: women are victims, objects of lust, or fools to depend upon. Somehow, it somehow doesn’t offend, maybe because it’s so over-the-top, or maybe because all the characters Wyatt sings about, including himself, are wretched. As he says himself in With Hell So Near:

Got nothin’ to say about myself
I’m just a poor bastard like everyone else

That’s on Songs of Desperation which opens memorably with a short introductory track entitled This Is Desperation, set to a mournful plucked guitar and backed with shattering screams. The lyric in its entirety is:

Pull up a chair crooked sinner
I see the bloodstains coverin’ your boots
An’ I see the scars coverin’ your face
Do you FEEL the Lord’s hand slowly crushin’ your throat?
Do you FEEL the Devil’s claws tearin’ holes in your legs?
That’s why you stumble when you walk
Yeah this is desperation
The only drug I found to ease the hurt
Are songs of desperation
[Unearthly scream]

There’s also Bone To Pick, another short track which is steeped in mouldering menace. Lyric in entirety again:

I’ve got a bone to pick
With your husband
Don’t think he’ll live through it
They never do
Gonna take him down to the river
Gonna weigh him down with stones
Don’t want to scare your sister
Just thought she should know
Just thought she should know

There’s a whole world in there that exists somewhere between the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance and Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads.

Songs also contains in Shadows Fall the image of Wyatt shooting a lame dog and contemplating suicide; in Amongst The Pines a tale of a murdered girls’s body lying undiscovered in a forest because the singer is too cowardly to tell anyone that he knows where she’s buried; and in My Last Dollar a jaunty singalong about alcoholism and infidelity. Somehow, I find the album soothing to listen to – maybe because my own life seems like paradise compared to the subjects of these songs! – and find myself singing and laughing along with Wyatt’s mournful, mad dirges.

Hellfire Hymns is their new album, out earlier this year, and it’s more polished in relation to Songs, and less immediate; but Wyatt’s stature as a songwriter is growing. I particularly admire Behold Black Sheep where takes a bitter stab at fundamentalist Christianity:

They call me worthless
And they say I’m doomed
But I can pray more fiercely
Than any Christian in this room

And there’s another one of their trademark short tracks, Blood On My Hands:

Darlin’ darlin darlin’
I’ve got blood on my hands
I hope it ain’t from you
I hope it ain’t from you

The album ends on a triumvirate of songs so forlorn, so wretched and miserable that they transcend misery and enter the fields of mordant euphoria. The titles alone are enough: Farewell Happy Fields, Lost On The Way, and Everything Is Gone.

Enough from this poor bastard. Get on over to their excellent website YOU lucky bastards!


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