Sometimes when I receive promos, I really don’t want to listen to them. The reasons for this vary greatly. With the debut from Old Fire, it was simply because it was labelled as “ambient country”, and, even though the artist has seen the world, he is hailing from Texas right now. Texas plus country doesn’t sound great to me. However, I will admit that I was wrong in every way. Old Fire’s debut album “Songs from the Haunted South” is a special album that I have grown to love.
Old Fire is a project or collaboration, not a band. The man at the center of it is John Mark Lapham, an experienced musician. He has recruited 22 vocalists and musicians for this album, an album that has taken 10 years to materialize. The creation of it has taken him to Europe and back to Texas, and his influences seem to be progressive, but also old school country stars like Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison. That is dedication to an idea, if I’ve ever seen it.
This album is not country music, though. It’s not, plain and simple. There are no twangs or sappy lyrics here. Instead, Old Fire utilizes American folk sounds and mixes them with ambient post-rock to awesome, chilling effect. This is more Johnny Cash than Garth Brooks. No, it’s further back than that. This album represents the folk music that America has generated clear back to the 19th century that was such an influence on the aforementioned old school country artists. John has managed to take these older influences and make them modern and emotionally palpable.
The music is alive. It flows and weaves itself into your brain like a trance. The title of the album is appropriate, as the music is certainly haunting, recalling past times and current brokenness. Many of the songs have ominous tones and evoke earthy textures in your mind. They also suggest lost dreams, broken foundations, and yearnings for golden years, all with hanging violins and burning synth. The several vocalists (both male and female), especially, make the music feel emotionally heavy and incredibly human, like part of your own past. The music often feels amber and yellowed with a great synth sound that brings to mind 80’s soundtracks, plus a hint of drone. It even reminds me, at times, of the rust and bleach of The Book of Eli soundtrack, especially on the final track, “Deadhouse Dream”.
The album itself flows from track to track to the point where you may not notice the transitional points. Some tracks are very short interludes that are very helpful to the overall pace of the album. Despite the album being ambient and, therefore, slow and subtle in its progression; these interludes help the album feel like less of a chore and more of a wonderful flow of emotions. The songs will fly by, and you will suddenly be at the end of the album unknowingly. Other tracks, like “Bloodchild”, “Helix”, “Shadows”, and “Know How” are longer, emotional ballads that represent the pillars of this album. They take you back in time with sad stories and aching hearts. But the flow of emotions and nostalgia never stop.
I encourage you to check out “Songs from the Haunted South”. It is an album of heartache and desire, of respect and ruin. It’s like looking through your family’s old photographs, and experiencing the nostalgia and also the pain associated with them. Kscope has deemed them worthy of attention, which is a good sign in and of itself. Old Fire, then, has produced an album that really speaks to my heart, while also combining genres that usually don’t fit well. You need to give this album a try.
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