Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Gallant Effort

'What The Toll Tells', the latest album by recondite San Francisco folksters Two Gallants came out at the beginning of the year and has been largely overlooked since then, by myself as much as anyone else. I was a big fan of the lilting melodies and tales of frontier loss and brutal vengeance in their first album 'The Throes', especially the long ballad 'Crow Jane' and the chuggingly spiteful 'Dyin' Crap-Shooter Blues'. The new album is more difficult than the first one, while carrying in the same vein. Though the band are favourites on the Indie scene in the US, their lyrical preoccupations have more in common with Dylan, John Prine or Steve Earle, and 'What the Toll Tells' is a grim cinematic trail through death and failure in American history, as its title indicates. Half the songs are more than seven minutes long, which is unusual enough these days, and might be called 'leisurely' only for the unease that underpins all the songs. Two Gallants write historical songs, in the same way Patrick O'Brian or Gore Vidal write historical novels. It is an album that is likely to be more successful in the long term than the short and it is a grower, and should be respected as such. I still find the band's name, taken from the title of Joyce's most devilish short story, a bit incongruous though. And their use of the word 'nigger', in however a contextual way, in the chorus of 'Long Summer Day' is a bit foolhardy.